School Achievement: Not Just Academic

Kevin Lewis

October 19, 2009

School Vouchers and Student Achievement: Recent Evidence and Remaining Questions

Cecilia Elena Rouse & Lisa Barrow
Annual Review of Economics, 2009, Pages 17-42

In this article, we review the empirical evidence on the impact of education vouchers on student achievement and briefly discuss the evidence from other forms of school choice. The best research to date finds relatively small achievement gains for students offered education vouchers, most of which are not statistically different from zero. Furthermore, what little evidence exists regarding the potential for public schools to respond to increased competitive pressure generated by vouchers suggests that one should remain wary that large improvements would result from a more comprehensive voucher system. The evidence from other forms of school choice is also consistent with this conclusion. Many questions remain unanswered, however, including whether vouchers have longer-run impacts on outcomes such as graduation rates, college enrollment, or even future wages, and whether vouchers might nevertheless provide a cost-neutral alternative to our current system of public education provision at the elementary and secondary school level.


Parents' Incomes and Children's Outcomes: A Quasi-Experiment

Randall Akee, William Copeland, Gordon Keeler, Adrian Angold & Jane Costello
American Economic Journal: Applied Economics, forthcoming

Identifying the effect of parental incomes on child outcomes is difficult due to the correlation of unobserved ability and income. Previous research has relied on the use of instrumental variables to identify the effect of a change in household income on the young adult outcomes of the household's children. In this research, we examine the role that an exogenous increase in household income due to a government transfer unrelated to household characteristics plays in the long run outcomes for children in affected households. We find that children who are in households affected by the cash transfer program have higher levels of education in their young adulthood and a lower incidence of criminality for minor offenses. These effects differ by initial household poverty status as is expected. We find that an additional $4000 per year for the poorest households increases educational attainment by one year at age 21 and reduces having ever committed a minor crime by 22% at ages 16-17. Second, we explore two possible mechanisms through which this exogenous increase in household income affects the long run outcomes of children - parental time and parental quality. Parental quality and child interactions show a marked improvement while changes in parental time with child does not appear to matter.


Strategic interaction among public school districts: Evidence on spatial interdependence in school inputs

Soma Ghosh
Economics of Education Review, forthcoming

This paper provides evidence on strategic interaction among public school districts in Massachusetts. The open enrollment program in Massachusetts is unique in testing the strategic competition thesis because it allows students to attend public schools located outside their home district. For each student who transfers out, funds are deducted from the sending district's local aid distribution and added to the receiving district's local aid. Thus, school districts no longer have the assurance of a ready supply of students and funding, instead they have to compete with neighboring districts, and enact strategies that will help retain as well as attract more students. A spatial econometric framework is applied to disentangle the correlation due to strategic interaction from the one that is simply due to spatially correlated error shocks. The results show that public school districts respond positively to the expenditure decisions of neighboring districts, thereby acting strategically when setting their own spending levels.


Teacher Effectiveness in Urban High Schools

Richard Buddin & Gema Zamarro
RAND Working Paper, August 2009

This research examines whether teacher licensure test scores and other teacher qualifications affect high school student achievement. The results are based on longitudinal student-level data from Los Angeles. The achievement analysis uses a value-added approach that adjusts for both student and teacher fixed effects. The results show little relationship between traditional measures of teacher quality (e.g., experience and education level) and student achievement in English Language Arts (ELA) or math. Similarly, teacher aptitude and subject-matter knowledge, as measured on state licensure tests, have no significant effects on student achievement. Achievement outcomes differ substantially from teacher to teacher, however, and the effects of a good ELA or math teacher spillover from one subject to the other.


The Role of Simplification and Information in College Decisions: Results from the H&R Block FAFSA Experiment

Eric Bettinger, Bridget Terry Long, Philip Oreopoulos & Lisa Sanbonmatsu
NBER Working Paper, September 2009

Growing concerns about low awareness and take-up rates for government support programs like college financial aid have spurred calls to simplify the application process and enhance visibility. This project examines the effects of two experimental treatments designed to test of the importance of simplification and information using a random assignment research design. H&R Block tax professionals helped low- to moderate-income families complete the FAFSA, the federal application for financial aid. Families were then given an estimate of their eligibility for government aid as well as information about local postsecondary options. A second randomly-chosen group of individuals received only personalized aid eligibility information but did not receive help completing the FAFSA. Comparing the outcomes of participants in the treatment groups to a control group using multiple sources of administrative data, the analysis suggests that individuals who received assistance with the FAFSA and information about aid were substantially more likely to submit the aid application, enroll in college the following fall, and receive more financial aid. These results suggest that simplification and providing information could be effective ways to improve college access. However, only providing aid eligibility information without also giving assistance with the form had no significant effect on FAFSA submission rates.


Is Charter School Competition in California Improving the Performance of Traditional Public Schools?

Ron Zimmer & Richard Buddin
Public Administration Review, September/October 2009, Pages 831-845

A premise of charter school initiatives has been that these schools have direct benefits for the students attending them and indirect benefits for other students by creating competition for traditional public schools to improve their performance. This study uses a two-pronged approach to assess whether California charter schools are having indirect effects on students in traditional public schools. First, we examine how traditional public school principals react to the introduction of charter schools. Second, we assess whether competition from nearby charters is affecting student achievement outcomes for students that remain in traditional public schools. The survey results show that traditional public school principals felt little competitive pressure from charters. Similarly, the student achievement analysis shows that charter competition was not improving the performance of traditional public schools. These results suggest that California charter schools are having little effect on the climate of traditional public schools.


School-Based Condom Education and Its Relations With Diagnoses of and Testing for Sexually Transmitted Infections Among Men in the United States

Brian Dodge, Michael Reece & Debby Herbenick
American Journal of Public Health, forthcoming

An intense social and political debate continues in the United States regarding sexuality education. Included in the debate are those who favor comprehensive approaches, those who favor abstinence-only approaches, and those who favor no sexuality education. In this study, we showed that men who received school-based condom education were less likely to have been diagnosed with sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and were more likely to ever have been tested for sexually transmitted infections than were men without such education. School-based condom education is associated with less, rather than more, STI risk.


The Effect of Teachers' Unions on Education Production: Evidence from Union Election Certifications in Three Midwestern States

Michael Lovenheim
Journal of Labor Economics, October 2009, Pages 525-587

Using a unique data set on teachers' union election certifications from Iowa, Indiana, and Minnesota, I estimate the effect of teachers' unions on school district resources and on student educational attainment. My empirical strategy allows for nonparametric leads and lags of union age. I find no impact on teacher pay or per student district expenditures but that unions increase teacher employment by 5%. I find no class size effect because of enrollment increases in unionized districts, and I estimate that unions have no net effect on high school dropout rates. These findings highlight the importance of correctly measuring unionization status.


Universal Vouchers and Racial and Ethnic Segregation

Eric Brunner, Jennifer Imazeki & Stephen Ross
Review of Economics and Statistics, forthcoming

Opponents of school vouchers often argue that vouchers will lead to "white flight" from public schools, thereby contributing to more racially- and ethnically-segregated schools. In this paper, we present evidence that sheds new light on this claim. Specifically, we use data on vote outcomes from a state-wide universal voucher initiative to estimate the likelihood that white households with children currently in public schools will use vouchers to switch out of predominantly non-white schools. Our results indicate that white households with children are significantly more likely to support school vouchers when their children attend schools with larger concentrations of non-white schoolchildren, an effect that is absent for non-white households with children and households without children. Follow-up analyses suggest that this result is driven less by race or ethnicity, per se, but more by other student characteristics, such as limited English proficiency or student performance, that are correlated with race or ethnicity.


Exploring the Impact of School Discipline on Racial Disproportion in the Juvenile Justice System

Sean Nicholson-Crotty, Zachary Birchmeier & David Valentine
Social Science Quarterly, December 2009, Pages 1003-1018

Background: It is widely recognized that African-American youth are significantly overrepresented in many juvenile justice systems relative to their population percentages. Research has also determined that similar disproportion exists in school discipline and speculated about a "school-to-prison pipeline" for minority youth.

Objective: This study explores empirically the degree to which disciplinary decisions made in schools can help to explain observed rates of disproportionate minority contact with juvenile courts.

Methods: It does so in an assessment of education and justice system data from a sample of counties in Missouri. Results: The findings suggest that racial disproportion in out-of-school suspensions, which cannot be explained solely by differences in delinquent behavior, is strongly associated with similar levels of disproportion in juvenile court referrals. The association between disproportionate patterns of school discipline and court referrals persists after controlling for poverty, urbanization, and other relevant factors.

Conclusions: The implication is that school-based programs that offer alternatives to suspension and expulsion and promote disciplinary equity may help alleviate racial disproportion in the juvenile justice system.


Harming the best: How schools affect the black-white achievement gap

Eric Hanushek & Steven Rivkin
Journal of Policy Analysis and Management, Summer 2009, Pages 366-393

Sizeable achievement differences by race appear in early grades, but substantial uncertainty exists about the impact of school quality on the black-white achievement gap and particularly about its evolution across different parts of the achievement distribution. Texas administrative data show that the overall growth in the achievement gap between third and eighth grades is larger for students with higher initial achievement and that specific teacher and peer characteristics explain a substantial share of the widening. The adverse effect of attending school with a high black enrollment share appears to be an important contributor to the larger growth in the achievement differential in the upper part of the test score distribution. This evidence reaffirms the major role played by peers and school quality, but also presents a policy dilemma. Teacher labor market complications, current housing patterns, legal limits to desegregation efforts, and uncertainty about the overall effects of specific desegregation programs indicate that effective policy responses will almost certainly involve a set of school improvements beyond simple changes in peer racial composition and the teacher experience distribution.


What Are the Long‐Term Effects of Small Classes on the Achievement Gap? Evidence from the Lasting Benefits Study

Spyros Konstantopoulos & Vicki Chung
American Journal of Education, November 2009, Pages 125-154

The findings on the social distribution of the immediate and lasting benefits of small classes have been mixed. We used data from Project STAR and the Lasting Benefits Study to examine the long‐term effects of small classes on the achievement gap in mathematics, reading, and science scores (Stanford Achievement Test). The results consistently indicated that all types of students benefit more in later grades from being in small classes in early grades. These positive effects are significant through grade 8. Longer periods in small classes produced higher increases in achievement in later grades for all types of students. For certain grades, in reading and science, low achievers seem to benefit more from being in small classes for longer periods. It appears that the lasting benefits of the cumulative effects of small classes may reduce the achievement gap in reading and science in some of the later grades.


Dressed for Success: Do School Uniforms Improve Student Behavior, Attendance, and Achievement?

Elisabetta Gentile & Scott Imberman
University of Houston Working Paper, March 2009

Concerns about safety in urban schools has led many school districts to require uniforms for their students. However, we know very little about what impact school uniforms have had on the educational environment. In this paper we use a unique dataset to assess how uniform adoption affects student achievement and behavior in a large urban school district int the southwest. Since each school in the district could decide independently about whether or not to adopt uniforms, we are able to use variation across schools and over time to identify the effects of uniforms. Using student and school fixed-effects along with school-specific linear time trends to address selection of students and schools into uniform adoption, we find that uniforms had little impact on student outcomes in elementary grades but provided modest improvements in language scores and attendance rates in middle and high school grades. These effects appear to be concentrated in female students.


The impact of desegregation on black teachers in the metropolis, 1970-2000

Deirdre Oakley, Jacob Stowell & John Logan
Ethnic and Racial Studies, November 2009, Pages 1576-1598

One-third of public school students are racial and/or ethnic minorities. Yet only 14 per cent of teachers represent these groups. Frequently lost in broader debates concerning this disparity is the paradoxical contribution of the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education decision. Schools were mandated under Brown to desegregate the student body. But the law did not necessarily protect the jobs of black teachers and administrators. Using a unique database of court orders, we examine the impact of mandated desegregation on black teachers. Findings indicate regional differences. Mandated desegregation created conditions that resulted in decreases in the black teaching force in the South. The opposite occurred in the non-south, with mandated desegregation positively associated with increases (although small) in the black teaching force. Our findings suggest that the legacy of mandated desegregation may have created broader institutional conditions in which black and other minority teachers remain underrepresented in the teaching force.


Adolescents' Sexual Behavior and Academic Attainment

Michelle Frisco
Sociology of Education, July 2008, Pages 284-311

High school students have high ambitions but do not always make choices that maximize their likelihood of educational success. This was the motivation for investigating the relationships between high school sexual behavior and two important milestones in academic attainment: earning a high school diploma and enrolling in distinct postsecondary programs. The analysis of data from 7,915 participants in the National Education Longitudinal Study of 1988-94 presented here indicated that the timing of sexual initiation, the nonuse of contraceptives, and parenthood all predict female and male students' academic attainment. Furthermore, sexual behavior has more ramifications as attainment milestones become more competitive. These findings point to the importance of considering how students' choices across multiple life domains influence academic attainment, an important predictor of socioeconomic opportunity in adulthood.

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