Kevin Lewis

April 07, 2014

Can Small High Schools of Choice Improve Educational Prospects for Disadvantaged Students?

Howard Bloom & Rebecca Unterman
Journal of Policy Analysis and Management, Spring 2014, Pages 290-319

This paper provides rigorous evidence (for 12,130 participants in a series of naturally occurring randomized lotteries) that a large-scale high school reform initiative (New York City's creation of 100+ small high schools of choice between 2002 and 2008) can markedly and consistently increase high school graduation rates (by 9.5 percentage points overall and for many different student subgroups) for a large population of educationally and economically disadvantaged students of color without increasing annual school operating costs. These findings are directly relevant to current debates by policymakers and practitioners about how to improve the educational prospects of disadvantaged students in the United States.


School Choice, School Quality, and Postsecondary Attainment

David Deming et al.
American Economic Review, March 2014, Pages 991-1013

We study the impact of a public school choice lottery in Charlotte-Mecklenburg schools on college enrollment and degree completion. We find a significant overall increase in college attainment among lottery winners who attend their first choice school. Using rich administrative data on peers, teachers, course offerings and other inputs, we show that the impacts of choice are strongly predicted by gains on several measures of school quality. Gains in attainment are concentrated among girls. Girls respond to attending a better school with higher grades and increases in college-preparatory course-taking, while boys do not.


Does Online Learning Impede Degree Completion? A National Study of Community College Students

Peter Shea & Temi Bidjerano
Computers & Education, June 2014, Pages 103-111

Using a nationally representative sample (The Beginning Postsecondary Student Survey, BPS 04/09), this study examined the associations between enrollment in credit-bearing distance education courses and degree attainment. We sought to determine whether US students enrolled in distance education courses during their first year of study at a community college tend to complete a degree (certificate, associate, or bachelor's) at significantly lower rates than those who were not enrolled in such courses or programs. Consistent with previous large-scale research at the State level in Virginia and Washington (Smith Jaggars & Xu, 2010; Xu & Smith Jaggars, 2011), we hypothesized that community college students who participate in distance education in early semesters graduate at lower rates than students who do not. Contrary to expectations, the study found that controlling for relevant background characteristics; students who take some of their early courses online or at a distance have a significantly better chance of attaining a community college credential than do their classroom only counterparts. These results imply that a new model of student retention in the age of the internet, one that assumes transactional adaptation, may be warranted.


Learning Citizenship? How State Education Reforms Affect Parents' Political Attitudes and Behavior

Jesse Rhodes
Political Behavior, forthcoming

Over the past three decades, the states have adopted a suite of reforms to their education systems in an effort to improve school performance. While scholars have speculated about the political consequences of these policies, to date there has been no empirical research investigating how these reforms affect the practice of American democracy. Combining data from an original survey of public school parents with information on state education standards, testing, and accountability policies, I examine how design features of these policies influence parents' attitudes about government, participation in politics, and involvement in their children's education. My research shows that parents residing in states with more developed assessment systems express more negative attitudes about government and education, and are less likely to become engaged in some forms of involvement in their children's education, than are parents who live in states with less developed assessment systems.


The politics of opting out: Explaining educational financing and popular support for public spending

Marius Busemeyer & Torben Iversen
Socio-Economic Review, April 2014, Pages 299-328

In this paper, we address two empirical puzzles: Why are cross-country differences in the division of labour between public and private education funding so large and why are they politically sustainable in the long term? We argue that electoral institutions play a crucial role in shaping politico-economic distributive coalitions that affected the original division of labour in education financing. In proportional representation systems, the lower and middle classes formed a coalition supporting the establishment of a system with a large share of public funding. In majoritarian systems, in contrast, the middle class voters aligned with the upper income class and supported private education spending instead. Once established, institutional arrangements create feedback effects on the micro-level of attitudes, reinforcing political support even among upper middle classes in public systems. These hypotheses are tested empirically both on the micro level of preferences as well as on the macro level with aggregate data and survey data from the ISSP for 20 Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development countries.


The Academic Impact of Enrollment in International Baccalaureate Diploma Programs: A Case Study of Chicago Public Schools

Anna Rosefsky Saavedra
Teachers College Record, April 2014

Purpose: This study examines whether enrollment in the IB Diploma Program increases students' academic achievement as measured by their composite ACT college admissions examination scores, probability of high school graduation, and probability of college enrollment, and whether the estimates differ by gender.

Setting, population, & data: This study uses data on the demographic characteristics, IB enrollment status, ACT scores, high school graduation status and college enrollment status of 20,422 students attending 13 Chicago Public Schools (CPS) high schools from 2002-2008. Data sources include the CPS and the National Student Clearinghouse.

Research Design: The analytic strategy is to first assume students are selected into the IB Diploma Program based on their observed characteristics, and then to use a propensity score approach to estimate the impact of IB enrollment on three measures of students' academic success. The second step, following Rosenbaum (2002), is to test the sensitivity of the estimates to different levels of selection bias.

Results: This study shows that IB enrollment increases students' academic achievement, probability of high school graduation and probability of college enrollment. Though selection bias may contribute to overstating the propensity score estimates, the conclusion from the sensitivity analyses is that it is unlikely that this internal-validity challenge negates the principal finding. All estimates are greater for boys than for girls. Calculations demonstrate that the IB Diploma Program is a cost-effective way to increase high school graduation rates.

Conclusions: The results are valuable for three reasons. First, they provide valuable information with which to make decisions about future investments in IB. Second, they contribute to knowledge of the means through which to improve high school education for disadvantaged urban youth. Finally, the results suggest that IB enrollment is especially beneficial for boys, for whom the probability of graduating from high school and enrolling in college - in CPS and at the national level - is substantially less than for girls.


The Lifetime Earnings Premia of Different Majors: Correcting for Selection Based on Cognitive, Noncognitive, and Unobserved Factors

Douglas Webber
Labour Economics, forthcoming

This paper constructs a simulation approach to estimate the lifetime returns to various college majors. I use data from the 1979 cohort of the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth and American Community Survey to estimate the parameters which form the backbone of the simulation. I address selection into both higher education and specific major categories using measures of cognitive and noncognitive ability. Additionally, I present the lifetime premia under various assumptions regarding the magnitude of unobservable sorting. I find substantial heterogeneity in the returns to each educational outcome, ranging from $700,000 for Arts/Humanities majors to $1.5 million for Science Technology Engineering or Math (STEM) graduates (each premium is relative to high school graduates with no college experience). The differentials are larger when search behavior (allowing for differential unemployment probabilities across majors) is taken into account. Finally, I estimate the major premia separately across three birth cohorts to account for the changing nature of selection into both college and majors over time.


Lost in Translation? Teacher Training and Outcomes in High School Economics Classes

Robert Valletta, Jody Hoff & Jane Lopus
Contemporary Economic Policy, forthcoming

Using data from a 2006 survey of California high school economics classes, we assess the effects of teacher characteristics on student achievement. We estimate value-added models of outcomes on multiple choice and essay exams, with matched classroom pairs for each teacher enabling random-effects and fixed-effects estimation. The results show a substantial impact of specialized teacher experience and college-level coursework in economics. However, the latter is associated with higher scores on the multiple-choice test and lower scores on the essay test, suggesting that a portion of teachers' content knowledge may be "lost in translation" when conveyed to their students.


From Action to Abstraction: Using the Hands to Learn Math

Miriam Novack et al.
Psychological Science, forthcoming

Previous research has shown that children benefit from gesturing during math instruction. We asked whether gesturing promotes learning because it is itself a physical action, or because it uses physical action to represent abstract ideas. To address this question, we taught third-grade children a strategy for solving mathematical-equivalence problems that was instantiated in one of three ways: (a) in a physical action children performed on objects, (b) in a concrete gesture miming that action, or (c) in an abstract gesture. All three types of hand movements helped children learn how to solve the problems on which they were trained. However, only gesture led to success on problems that required generalizing the knowledge gained. The results provide the first evidence that gesture promotes transfer of knowledge better than direct action on objects and suggest that the beneficial effects gesture has on learning may reside in the features that differentiate it from action.


Does Classroom Time Matter? A Randomized Field Experiment of Hybrid and Traditional Lecture Formats in Economics

Theodore Joyce et al.
NBER Working Paper, March 2014

We test whether students in a hybrid format of introductory microeconomics, which met once per week, performed as well as students in a traditional lecture format of the same class, which met twice per week. We randomized 725 students at a large, urban public university into the two formats, and unlike past studies, had a very high participation rate of 96 percent. Two experienced professors taught one section of each format, and students in both formats had access to the same online materials. We find that students in the traditional format scored 2.3 percentage points more on a 100-point scale on the combined midterm and final. There were no differences between formats in non-cognitive effort (attendance, time spent with online materials) nor in withdrawal from the class. Comparing our experimental estimates of the effect of attendance with non-experimental estimates using only students in the traditional format, we find that the non-experimental were 2.5 times larger, suggesting that the large effects of attending lectures found in the previous literature are likely due to selection bias. Overall our results suggest that hybrid classes may offer a cost effective alternative to traditional lectures while having a small impact on student performance.


Teaching Practices and Cognitive Skills

Jan Bietenbeck
Labour Economics, forthcoming

National Teaching Standards by various educational organizations in the United States call for a decrease in the use of traditional teaching practices (such as learning by rote) and an increase in the use of modern teaching practices (such as working in small groups) in schools. Yet a small literature in economics has consistently found that traditional teaching raises test scores, while the effect of modern teaching appears to be small and sometimes even negative. This paper uses data from the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) to show that traditional and modern teaching practices promote different cognitive skills in students. In particular, traditional teaching practices increase students' factual knowledge and their competency in solving routine problems, but have no significant effect on their reasoning skills. The effects of modern teaching practices are exactly the opposite, with modern teaching fostering reasoning skills. I provide evidence that standardized tests do not measure reasoning skills well, which explains the finding of only small or negative effects of modern teaching on test scores in the literature. I discuss the implications of these results for the recommendations made by National Teaching Standards.


Academic Content, Student Learning, and the Persistence of Preschool Effects

Amy Claessens, Mimi Engel & Chris Curran
American Educational Research Journal, April 2014, Pages 403-434

Little research has examined the relationship between academic content coverage in kindergarten and student achievement. Using nationally representative data, we examine the association between reading and mathematics content coverage in kindergarten and student learning, both overall and for students who attended preschool, Head Start, or participated in other child care prior to kindergarten entry. We find that all children benefit from exposure to advanced content in reading and mathematics and that students do not benefit from basic content coverage. Interestingly, this is true regardless of whether they attended preschool, began kindergarten with more advanced skills, or are from families with low income. Policy implications are discussed.


The Effect of Providing Breakfast in Class on Student Performance

Scott Imberman & Adriana Kugler
Journal of Policy Analysis and Management, forthcoming

Many schools have recently experimented with moving breakfast from the cafeteria to the classroom. We examine whether such a program increases achievement, grades, and attendance rates. We exploit quasi-random timing of program implementation that allows for a difference-in-differences identification strategy. We find that providing breakfast in class relative to the cafeteria raises math and reading achievement by 0.09 and 0.06 standard deviations, respectively. These effects are most pronounced for low-performing, free lunch-eligible, Hispanic, and low body mass index students. A lack of differences by exposure time and effects on grades suggest that these impacts are on test-taking performance rather than learning. At the same time, the results highlight the possibility that measured achievement may be biased downwards, and accountability penalties may be inappropriately applied, in schools where many students do not consume breakfast.


Access to Technology and the Transfer Function of Community Colleges: Evidence from a Field Experiment

Robert Fairlie & Samantha Grunberg
Economic Inquiry, forthcoming

Access to information may represent an important barrier to learning about and ultimately transferring to 4-year colleges for low-income community college students. This article explores the role that access to information technology, in particular, plays in enhancing, or possibly detracting from, the transfer function of the community college. Using data from the first-ever field experiment randomly providing free computers to students, we examine the relationships between access to home computers and enrollment in transferable courses and actual transfers to 4-year colleges. The results from the field experiment indicate that the treatment group of students receiving free computers has a 4.5 percentage point higher probability of taking transferable courses than the control group of students not receiving free computers. The evidence is less clear for the effects on actual transfers to 4-year colleges and the probability of using a computer to search for college information (which possibly represents one of the mechanisms for positive effects). In both cases, point estimates are positive, but the confidence intervals are wide. Finally, power calculations indicate that sample sizes would have to be considerably larger to find statistically significant treatment effects and reasonably precise confidence intervals given the actual transfer rate point estimates.


Do the Effects of Head Start Vary by Parental Preacademic Stimulation?

Elizabeth Miller et al.
Child Development, forthcoming

Data from the Head Start Impact Study (N = 3,185, age = 3-4 years) were used to determine whether 1 year of Head Start differentially benefited children from homes with high, middle, and low levels of parental preacademic stimulation on three academic outcome domains - early math, early literacy, and receptive vocabulary. Results from residualized growth models showed positive impacts of random assignment to Head Start on all three outcomes, and positive associations between parental preacademic stimulation and academic performance. Two moderated effects were also found. Head start boosted early math skills the most for children receiving low parental preacademic stimulation. Effects of Head Start on early literacy skills were largest for children receiving moderate levels of parental preacademic stimulation. Implications for Head Start are discussed.


Curricular Tracking and Central Examinations: Counterbalancing the Impact of Social Background on Student Achievement in 36 Countries

Thijs Bol et al.
Social Forces, forthcoming

Tracked educational systems are associated with greater social inequality in children's educational achievement. Until now, research has assumed that the impact of tracking on the inequality of educational opportunity is independent of other educational institutional features. Using data from the 2009 PISA survey, we study how central examinations affect the association between tracking and inequality. We find that parental socioeconomic status has a larger effect on student achievement in systems without central examinations, whereas in systems with central examinations, this relationship is attenuated. We argue that central examinations help hold schools accountable for their performance, which (1) encourages schools to allocate students to tracks on the basis of more objective indicators and (2) makes it likely for schools to invest more in lower-track students. Thus, central exams attenuate the stronger impact of parental status on children's performance in tracked educational systems.


Peer Contexts: Do Old for Grade and Retained Peers Influence Student Behavior in Middle School?

Clara Muschkin, Elizabeth Glennie & Audrey Beck
Teachers College Record, April 2014

Purpose: This study analyzes the association between the presence of old for grade and retained peers and the propensity for seventh graders to engage in deviant behaviors and receive an out-of-school suspension. Then, we examine whether some students are more vulnerable to peer influences associated with having retained and older peers.

Subjects: This study employs administrative data from the 2000-2001 academic year on all seventh-grade students in North Carolina traditional classrooms in traditional middle schools with a grade range of 6 to 8.The sample is 79,314 seventh-grade students in 334 schools in 94 districts.

Research Design: We use a logit framework to analyze dichotomous outcomes: whether students had ever been reported for committing an infraction, and whether students had ever been suspended over the academic year. Then, we use negative binomial models to examine the number of infractions students committed. We employ fixed effects estimation models for both the logit and the negative binomial analyses to account for unmeasured covariates at the district level.

Results: Seventh-grade students who attend school with many old for grade or retained peers are more likely to commit offenses and be suspended. Retained and old for grade students are more vulnerable to these peer influences than other students. Girls and White students are more vulnerable to peer effects of having retained and old for grade students in their grade.

Conclusions: We find an increase in negative behavior across all students who have higher levels of retained and old for grade peers. Increased opportunities to interact with deviant peers can influence the behavior of youth who do not share the same risk factors for deviant behavior. Thus, grade retention and delayed school-entry policies can influence the entire school community. Policies that help students stay on track academically have the potential not only to benefit students who are at risk for academic failure, but also to enhance the positive behavior of other students in the grade.


The Influence of Tardy Classmates on Students' Socio-Emotional Outcomes

Michael Gottfried
Teachers College Record, March 2014

Purpose: The purpose of this study is to determine the effects of peer-level tardiness on individual-level socio-emotional outcomes utilizing nationally representative, longitudinal data.

Population/Participants/Subjects: The data are sourced from the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study-Kindergarten Class (ECLS-K), which is a nationally representative sample of students, teachers, and schools. Information was first collected from kindergartners (as well as parents, teachers, and school administrators) from U.S. kindergarten programs in the 1998-1999 school year. This study utilizes data collected at spring of kindergarten, first grade, and third grade. Across all three waves of data, there were a total of N=21,765 student observations.

Research Design: This study combines secondary data analyses and quasi-experimental methods. There are five dependent socio-emotional variables utilized throughout this study, delineated into problem behaviors and social skills. Problem behaviors include two scales: (a) externalizing problem behaviors and (b) internalizing problem behaviors. Social skills include three scales: (a) level of self-control, (b) approaches to learning, and (c) interpersonal skills. This study begins with a baseline, linear regression model. To address issues pertaining to omitted variable bias, this study employs multilevel fixed effects modeling.

Findings: The coefficients on classroom tardies indicated statistically significant relationships between having a higher daily average number of classmate tardies and socio-emotional development. Students whose classmates are, on average, tardy more frequently have higher frequencies of problem behaviors and lower levels of social skills. The effects remain significant even after accounting for multiple omitted variable biases.

Conclusions/Recommendations: In addition to the previously well-established negative effects of missing school via absences, tardiness also diminishes student outcomes. Hence, the findings in this study - which brought to the surface new ways by which classmates' actions can influence other students' outcomes - would support the continuation of those school practices that successfully reduce multiple channels of missing school. Particularly high rates of peer tardies in addition to high rates of peer absences have both now been established in the research literature as detrimental to individual and classmate outcomes.


The distributional impacts of a universal school reform on mathematical achievements: A natural experiment from Canada

Catherine Haeck, Pierre Lefebvre & Philip Merrigan
Economics of Education Review, forthcoming

We investigate the impact of an ambitious provincial school reform in Canada on students' mathematical achievements. It is the first paper to exploit a universal school reform of this magnitude to identify the causal effect of a widely supported teaching approach on students' math scores. Our data set allows us to differentiate impacts according to the number of years of treatment and the timing of treatment. Using the changes-in-changes model, we find that the reform had negative effects on students' scores at all points on the skills distribution and that the effects were larger the longer the exposure to the reform.


Is Discord Detrimental? Using Institutional Variation to Identify the Impact of Public Governing Board Conflict on Outcomes

Jason Grissom
Journal of Public Administration Research and Theory, April 2014, Pages 289-315

Few studies have examined the impact of governing board decision processes on board and organizational outcomes. This study draws on research on small work teams in the private sector to develop expectations about the relationship between outcomes and one aspect of board dynamics that affects decision making: intraboard conflict. Using administrative and survey data from school board members and school district superintendents in California, I show a consistent pattern of negative associations between board conflict and outcomes at multiple organizational levels. An instrumental variables strategy utilizing institutional variation in board member election type confirms that board conflict can lead to negative outcomes. The findings suggest that existing conceptualizations of board roles should be broadened to incorporate the interpersonal dynamics that inform board decision making.


Measure for Measure: How Proficiency-based Accountability Systems Affect Inequality in Academic Achievement

Jennifer Jennings & Heeju Sohn
Sociology of Education, April 2014, Pages 125-141

How do proficiency-based accountability systems affect inequality in academic achievement? This article reconciles mixed findings in the literature by demonstrating that three factors jointly determine accountability's impact. First, by analyzing student-level data from a large urban school district, we find that when educators face accountability pressure, they focus attention on students closest to proficiency. We refer to this practice as educational triage and show that the difficulty of the proficiency standard affects whether lower or higher performing students gain most on high-stakes tests used to evaluate schools. Less difficult proficiency standards decrease inequality in high-stakes achievement, while more difficult standards increase it. Second, we show that educators emphasize test-specific skills with students near proficiency, a practice we refer to as instructional triage. As a result, the effects of accountability pressure differ across high- and low-stakes tests; we find no effects on inequality in low-stakes reading and math tests of similar skills. Finally, we provide suggestive evidence that instructional triage is most pronounced in the lowest performing schools. We conclude by discussing how these findings shape our understanding of accountability's effects on educational inequality.


How Does School District Consolidation Affect Property Values? A Case Study of New York

William Duncombe, John Yinger & Pengju Zhang
Public Finance Review, forthcoming

This article explores the impact of school district consolidation on house values based on house sales in upstate New York State from 2000 to 2012. By combining propensity score matching (PSM) and double-sales data to compare house value changes in consolidating and comparable school districts, we find that, except in one relatively large district, consolidation has a negative impact on house values during the years right after it occurs and that this effect then fades away and is eventually reversed. This pattern suggests that it takes time either for the advantages of consolidation to be apparent or for the people who prefer consolidated districts to move in. Finally, as in previous studies, the long-run impacts of consolidation on house values are positive in census tracts that initially have low incomes, but negative in high-income census tracts, where parents may have a relatively large willingness to retain the nonbudgetary advantages of small districts.


Does Education Improve Cognitive Performance Four Decades After School Completion?

Nicole Schneeweis, Vegard Skirbekk & Rudolf Winter-Ebmer
Demography, April 2014, Pages 619-643

We study the effect of secondary education on cognitive performance toward the end of working age. We exploit the exogenous variation in years of schooling arising from compulsory schooling reforms implemented in six European countries during the 1950s and 1960s. Using data of individuals, approximately age 60, from the Survey of Health, Ageing and Retirement in Europe (SHARE), we assess the causal effect of education on memory, fluency, numeracy, and orientation-to-date. Furthermore, we study education effects on cognitive decline. We find a positive impact of schooling on memory scores. One year of education increases the memory score approximately four decades later by about 0.2, which amounts to 10 % of a standard deviation. Furthermore, we find some evidence for a protective effect of schooling on cognitive decline in terms of verbal fluency.


Doubly Robust Estimation of Causal Effects with Multivalued Treatments: An Application to the Returns to Schooling

Derya Uysal
Journal of Applied Econometrics, forthcoming

This paper provides doubly robust estimators for treatment effect parameters which are defined in a multivalued treatment effect framework. We apply this method to the unique dataset of the 1970 British Cohort Study (BCS70) to estimate returns to various levels of schooling. The analysis is carried out for female and male samples separately to capture possible gender differences. Average returns are estimated for the entire population, as well as conditional on having a specific educational achievement. For males, relative to no qualification, we find an average return to O-levels of 6.3%, to A-levels of 7.9% and to higher education of 25.4%. The estimated average returns to O-level and A-level relative to no qualification are insignificant for females, whereas the return to higher education is 19.9%.


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