Lesson learned

Kevin Lewis

August 14, 2017

Strategic Staffing? How Performance Pressures Affect the Distribution of Teachers Within Schools and Resulting Student Achievement
Jason Grissom, Demetra Kalogrides & Susanna Loeb
American Educational Research Journal, forthcoming

School performance pressures apply disproportionately to tested grades and subjects. Using longitudinal administrative data — including achievement data from untested grades — and teacher survey data from a large urban district, we examine schools’ responses to those pressures in assigning teachers to high-stakes and low-stakes classrooms. We find that teachers with more positive performance measures in both tested and untested classrooms are more likely to be placed in a tested classroom in the following year. Performance measures even more strongly predict a high-stakes teaching assignment in schools with low state accountability grades and where principals exercise more assignment influence. In elementary schools, we show that such “strategic” teacher assignment disadvantages early grades, concentrating less effective teachers in K–2 classrooms. Reassignment of ineffective upper-grades teachers to early grades systematically results in lower K–2 math and reading achievement gains. Moreover, evidence suggests that students’ lower early-grades achievement persists into subsequent tested grades.

The Effect of Teachers’ Unions on Student Achievement: Evidence from Wisconsin's Act 10
Eric Baron
Florida State University Working Paper, July 2017

In this study, I estimate the causal impact of a weakening of teachers’ unions on student achievement. I do so by exploiting a quasi-experiment that took place in Wisconsin following the passage of Act 10, a measure that significantly limited the bargaining power of teachers’ unions in the state. Specifically, I exploit plausibly exogenous variation in the length of pre-Act 10 collective bargaining agreements among school districts that led to differences in the timing of exposure to Act 10. I find that test scores on the state’s standardized exam decreased by approximately 30% of a standard deviation in initially low-performing schools, but find no evidence that the law impacted students in initially high-performing schools. Lastly, I show that the reduction in test scores was at least partially driven by a combination of teacher retirements and a decrease in the quality of the teaching workforce.

Labor Market Frictions and Production Efficiency in Public Schools
Dongwoo Kim et al.
Economics of Education Review, October 2017, Pages 54–67

State-specific licensing policies and pension plans create mobility costs for educators who cross state lines. We empirically test whether these costs affect production in schools – a hypothesis that follows directly from economic theory on labor frictions – using geocoded data on school locations and state boundaries. We find that achievement is lower in mathematics, and to a lesser extent in reading, at schools that are more exposed to state boundaries. A detailed investigation of the selection of schools into boundary regions yields no indication of systematic differences between boundary and non-boundary schools along other measured dimensions. Moreover, we show that cross-district labor frictions do not explain state boundary effects. Our findings are consistent with the hypothesis that mobility frictions in educator labor markets near state boundaries lower student achievement.

Risky Business? The Effect of Majoring in Business on Earnings and Educational Attainment
Rodney Andrews, Scott Imberman & Michael Lovenheim
NBER Working Paper, July 2017

One of the most important decisions a student can make during the course of his or her college career is the choice of major. The field of study a student selects translates directly into the types of skills and knowledge he or she will obtain during college, and it can influence the type of career chosen after postsecondary education ends. Business is one of the most popular majors in the US, accounting for 19% of all college degrees granted. We study the impact of choosing a business major using a regression discontinuity design that exploits GPA cutoffs for switching majors in some Texas universities. Even though nearly 60% of marginal business majors would have majored in a STEM field otherwise, we find large and statistically significant increases in earnings of 80% to 130% 12+ years after college entry, driven mainly by women. These are considerably larger than OLS estimates that condition on a rich set of demographic, high school achievement, and high school fixed-effects controls, which is consistent with students choosing majors based on comparative advantage. We do not find statistically significant effects of majoring in business on educational outcomes, except for positive effects on male 6-year graduation rates.

Vouchers in the Bayou: The Effects of the Louisiana Scholarship Program on Student Achievement After 2 Years
Jonathan Mills & Patrick Wolf
Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis, September 2017, Pages 464-484

The Louisiana Scholarship Program (LSP) offers publicly funded vouchers to students in low-performing schools with family income no greater than 250% of the poverty line, allowing them to enroll in participating private schools. Initially established in 2008 as a pilot program in New Orleans, the LSP was expanded statewide in 2012. This article examines the experimental effects of using an LSP scholarship to enroll in one’s first-choice private school on student achievement in the first 2 years following the program’s expansion. Our results indicate that the use of an LSP scholarship has negatively affected both English Language Arts (ELA) and mathematics achievement. We observe less negative effect estimates in the second year of the program, with the impacts on ELA only on the margin of statistical significance.

When Are Local Incumbents Held Accountable for Government Performance? Evidence from US School Districts
Julia Payson
Legislative Studies Quarterly, August 2017, Pages 421–448

Do voters hold local officials accountable for government performance? Using over a decade of panel data on school district elections and academic achievement in California, I causally identify the effect of test score changes on school board incumbent re-election rates and show that incumbents are more likely to win re-election when test scores improve in their districts — but only in presidential election years. This effect disappears in midterm and off-years, indicating that election timing might facilitate local government accountability.

Long-Term Trends in Private School Enrollments by Family Income
Richard Murnane & Sean Reardon
NBER Working Paper, July 2017

We use data from multiple national surveys to describe trends in private elementary school enrollment by family income from 1968-2013. We note several important trends. First, the private school enrollment rate of middle-income families declined substantially over the last five decades, while that of high-income families remained quite stable. Second, there are notable differences in private school enrollment trends by race/ethnicity, urbanicity, and region of the country. Although racial/ethnic differences in private school enrollment are largely explained by income differences, the urban/suburban and regional differences in private school enrollment patterns are large even among families with similar incomes. In particular, the 90-50 income percentile difference in private school enrollment rates in 2013 is more than three times as large in cities as in the suburbs, and these gaps are larger in the South and West than in the Northeast and Midwest. Factors contributing to these patterns may include trends in income inequality, private school costs and availability, and the perceived relative quality of local schooling options.

State divestment and tuition at public institutions
Douglas Webber
Economics of Education Review, October 2017, Pages 1–4

This study examines the pass-through rate of changes in public funding to tuition and fees paid by students. Using an instrumental variable-fixed effects identification strategy, I estimate that a $1000 per student decrease in funding leads to the typical student paying $257 more each year in costs. However, both the pass-through rate and the proportion of tuition increases which can be explained by state divestment have increased over time. The pass-through rate increased from 10.3% prior to the year 2000 to 31.8% post-2000. I outline several avenues of future research which should be pursued in order to more fully understand which students shoulder the burden of reductions in public support.

Do Teacher Financial Awards Improve Teacher Retention and Student Achievement in an Urban Disadvantaged School District?
Dara Shifrer, Ruth López Turley & Holly Heard
American Educational Research Journal, forthcoming

Teacher performance pay programs are theorized to improve student achievement by incentivizing teachers, but opponents counter that teachers are not motivated by money. We used regression discontinuity techniques and data on a census of the students, teachers, and schools in a large urban minority-majority school district to show receipt of a financial award did not consistently relate to higher mean student test score gains or teachers’ likelihood of retention. This study contributes to the literature by focusing on the effects of award receipt rather than award eligibility, differentiating by award amount, and using data from a large district serving predominantly disadvantaged students.

Great Expectations Unmet: The Impact of Adolescent Educational Expectations on Deviant Coping During the Transition to Adulthood
Patrick Cundiff
Sociological Inquiry, August 2017, Pages 449–471

Previous research has shown that during adolescence, holding high expectations of college education serves as a protective factor for delinquency and substance use. Little is known whether the protective factor of college expectations extends into young adulthood, especially among ambitious youth who do not earn a degree. Using longitudinal data from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health, this research focuses on the longer term effects of adolescent educational expectations on deviant coping. This study finds that failing to realize realistically high expectations of college education during the transition to adulthood increases an individual's likelihood of deviant coping during the transition to adulthood.

Revisiting The Widget Effect: Teacher Evaluation Reforms and the Distribution of Teacher Effectiveness
Matthew Kraft & Allison Gilmour
Educational Researcher, June 2017, Pages 234-249

In 2009, the New Teacher Project’s The Widget Effect documented the failure of U.S. public school districts to recognize and act on differences in teacher effectiveness. We revisit these findings by compiling teacher performance ratings across 24 states that adopted major reforms to their teacher evaluation systems. In the vast majority of these states, the percentage of teachers rated unsatisfactory remains less than 1%. However, the full distributions of ratings vary widely across states, with 0.7% to 28.7% rated below proficient and 6% to 62% rated above proficient. We present original survey data from an urban district illustrating that evaluators perceive more than 3 times as many teachers in their schools to be below proficient than they rate as such. Interviews with principals reveal several potential explanations for these patterns.

Them That’s Got: How Tie Formation in Partnership Networks Gives High Schools Differential Access to Social Capital
E.N. Bridwell-Mitchell
American Educational Research Journal, forthcoming

School partnerships are important sources of school social capital. Schools may have unequal access to social capital due to the pattern of relationships in the school-partner network. Using data on school resource needs, sociometric measures, and a set of multilevel logit models, the results of a study of 211 New York City public high schools and 1,098 partner organizations from 1999 to 2005 suggest that high schools have unequal access to partner resources. Already well-endowed schools, in terms of having many experienced teachers or being embedded in dense networks, are most likely to partner. Disadvantaged schools, in terms of having many low socioeconomic status students or being in high-competition network positions, are least likely to partner. So, some policies promoting school partnerships may unintentionally reinforce existing structural inequalities among schools.

Test-Based Promotion Policies, Dropping Out, and Juvenile Crime
Ozkan Eren, Briggs Depew & Stephen Barnes
Journal of Public Economics, September 2017, Pages 9-31

Over the past decade, several states and school districts have implemented accountability systems that require students to demonstrate a minimum level of proficiency through standardized tests. With many states and school districts ending social promotion, policy makers and researchers have gained renewed interest in the role of grade retention and remedial education in US schools. This paper examines the potential effects of summer school and grade retention on high school completion and juvenile crime. To do so, we use administrative data from a number of state agencies in Louisiana and a regression discontinuity design to analyze Louisiana’s statewide test-based promotion policy administered to students in fourth and eighth grades. Our results indicate that potential grade retention increases the propensity of a student to drop out of school. In addition, eighth grade remedial education assignment in the form of summer school appears to provide a positive benefit by decreasing the likelihood that a student drops out. As for fourth grade students, however, we do not find any effect of summer school assignment. Finally, for eighth graders, we find that the net effect of the test-based promotion policies is to decrease the probability of being convicted of a juvenile crime.

Resource- and Approach-Driven Multidimensional Change: Three-Year Effects of School Improvement Grants
Min Sun, Emily Penner & Susanna Loeb
American Educational Research Journal, August 2017, Pages 607-643

Hoping to spur dramatic school turnaround, the federal government channeled resources to the country’s lowest-performing schools through School Improvement Grants (SIG). However, prior research on SIG effectiveness is limited and focuses primarily on student achievement. This study uses a difference-in-differences strategy to estimate program impacts on multiple dimensions across the 3-year duration of the SIG award in one urban school district. Following 2 years of modest improvement, we find pronounced, positive effects of SIG interventions on student achievement in Year 3, consistent with prior literature indicating that improvements from comprehensive school turnarounds emerge gradually. We also identify improvements indicating the process through which change occurred, including reduced unexcused absences, increased family preference for SIG schools, improved retention of effective teachers, and greater development of teacher professional capacity.

Bad Company: Understanding Negative Peer Effects in College Achievement
Ryan Brady, Michael Insler & Ahmed Rahman
European Economic Review, September 2017, Pages 144–168

Existing peer effects studies produce contradictory findings, including positive, negative, large, and small effects, despite similar contexts. We explore these results using U.S. Naval Academy data covering a 17-year history of the random assignment of students to peer groups. Coupled with students’ limited discretion over freshman-year courses, our setting affords an opportunity to better understand peer effects in different social contexts. We find negative effects at the broader "company" level — students’ social and residential group — and positive effects at the narrower course-company level within small peer groups. We suggest that peer spillovers change direction because of differences in the underlying mechanism of peer influence.

Does Remediation Work for All Students? How the Effects of Postsecondary Remedial and Developmental Courses Vary by Level of Academic Preparation
Angela Boatman & Bridget Terry Long
Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis, forthcoming

We examine the impact of remedial and developmental courses on college students with varying levels of academic preparedness, thus focusing on a wider range of students than previous studies. Using a regression discontinuity design, we provide causal estimates of the effects of placement in different levels of remedial courses on short-, intermediate-, and long-term outcomes at both 2- and 4-year colleges. Similar to other research, we find that remediation has negative effects for students on the margin of needing one developmental course. However, for students with lower levels of academic preparation, the effects of remediation are estimated to be positive in some subjects. These results suggest that remedial courses can help or hinder students differently depending on their incoming levels of academic preparedness. Moreover, our conclusions are largely driven by positive and negative effects observed for students at 2-year institutions, and we discuss several hypotheses that may explain these findings.

How Pensions Contribute to the Premium Paid to Experienced Public School Teachers
Joshua McGee & Marcus Winters
Educational Researcher, June 2017, Pages 250-258

Many argue that public school systems should stop linking teachers’ salaries so closely to their years of experience. However, the effect of deferred retirement compensation on the premium paid to experienced teachers has, to date, been underappreciated. To shed more light on this issue, we calculate the total compensation earned by teachers in New York City and Philadelphia from both salary and deferred retirement compensation under each system’s currently operating defined-benefit plan. Retirement compensation in both cities is back-loaded, which substantially increases the premium paid to highly experienced teachers. In late-career years, teachers often earn a larger compensation premium from the accrual of pension benefits than from salary. We show that cash-balance retirement plans, which are less back-loaded, would substantially reduce experience premiums without reducing the total compensation for the average entering teacher.

The Political Economy of Higher Education Admission Standards and Participation Gap
Philippe De Donder & Francisco Martinez-Mora
Journal of Public Economics, forthcoming

We build a political economy model allowing us to shed light on the empirically observed simultaneous increase in university size and participation gap. Parents differ in income and in the ability of their unique child. They vote over the minimum ability level required to attend public universities, which are tuition-free and financed by proportional income taxation. Parents can invest in private tutoring to help their child pass the admission test. A university participation gap emerges endogenously with richer parents investing more in tutoring. A unique majority voting equilibrium exists, which can be either classical or “ends-against-the-middle” (in which case parents of both low- and high-ability children favor a smaller university). Four factors increase the university size (larger skill premium enjoyed by university graduates, smaller tutoring costs, smaller university cost per student, larger minimum ability of students), but only the former two also increase the participation gap. A more unequal parental income distribution also increases the participation gap, but barely affects the university size.

Are School Districts Allocating Resources Equitably? The Every Student Succeeds Act, Teacher Experience Gaps, and Equitable Resource Allocation
David Knight
Educational Policy, forthcoming

Ongoing federal efforts support equalizing access to experienced educators for low-income students and students of color, thereby narrowing the “teacher experience gap.” I show that while high-poverty and high-minority schools have larger class sizes and receive less funding nationally, school districts allocate resource equitably, on average, across schools. However, the least experienced teachers are still concentrated in high-poverty and high-minority schools, both across and within districts. I then show that additional state and local funding is associated with more equitable district resource allocation. The study offers recommendations for state and federal education policy related to the Every Student Succeeds Act.

The Politics of International Testing
Rie Kijima & Phillip Lipscy
Stanford Working Paper, May 2017

In recent years, an increasing number of countries have participated in cross-national assessments in education (CNAs), but their impact remains underexplored. We argue that CNA participation increases the capacity and motivation of policymakers to implement improvements in education through mechanisms at the elite, domestic, and transnational levels. We find evidence consistent with our propositions using a mixed-method approach, utilizing: 1. a panel dataset covering all CNAs and all countries in the international system; 2. an original survey of 77 education officials directly responsible for the planning and implementation of CNAs in 46 countries; 3. personal interviews with 48 officials in target states, assessment agencies, and donor agencies. Even after accounting for potential self-selection, CNA participation is associated with increases in net secondary enrollment, particularly for girls, and education aid inflows. Qualitative and quantitative evidence also suggests that CNA participation accelerates education reforms. The empirical results consistently support our prediction that CNA participation has a meaningful impact on education policy and outcomes.

Cognitive Validity: Can Multiple-Choice Items Tap Historical Thinking Processes?
Mark Smith
American Educational Research Journal, forthcoming

Cognitive validity examines the relationship between what an assessment aims to measure and what it actually elicits from test takers. The present study examined whether multiple-choice items from the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) grade 12 U.S. history exam elicited the historical thinking processes they were designed to measure. Think-aloud data from 27 accomplished high school students revealed that in no instances did students engage in the intended processes. Rather, the items typically elicited three construct-irrelevant processes: factual recall/recognition, reading comprehension, and test-taking strategies. Further, findings revealed that although the items often prompted students to engage in factual recall, they were often not sound indicators of student knowledge. Implications for history testing and alternative forms of assessment are discussed.

Improving numeracy through values affirmation enhances decision and STEM outcomes
Ellen Peters et al.
PLoS ONE, July 2017

Greater numeracy has been correlated with better health and financial outcomes in past studies, but causal effects in adults are unknown. In a 9-week longitudinal study, undergraduate students, all taking a psychology statistics course, were randomly assigned to a control condition or a values-affirmation manipulation intended to improve numeracy. By the final week in the course, the numeracy intervention (statistics-course enrollment combined with values affirmation) enhanced objective numeracy, subjective numeracy, and two decision-related outcomes (financial literacy and health-related behaviors). It also showed positive indirect-only effects on financial outcomes and a series of STEM-related outcomes (course grades, intentions to take more math-intensive courses, later math-intensive courses taken based on academic transcripts). All decision and STEM-related outcome effects were mediated by the changes in objective and/or subjective numeracy and demonstrated similar and robust enhancements. Improvements to abstract numeric reasoning can improve everyday outcomes.

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