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Politics, governance, philanthropy, and organizations

Matthew Kraft, Eric Brunner, Shaun Dougherty, David Schwegman.

In recent years, states have sought to increase accountability for public school teachers by implementing a package of reforms centered on high-stakes evaluation systems. We examine the effect of these reforms on the supply and quality of new teachers. Leveraging variation across states and time, we find that accountability reforms reduced the number of newly licensed teacher candidates and increased the likelihood of unfilled teaching positions, particularly in hard-to-staff schools. Evidence also suggests that reforms increased the quality of new labor supply by reducing the likelihood new teachers attended unselective undergraduate institutions. Decreases in job security, satisfaction, and autonomy are likely mechanisms for these effects.

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Carlos X. Lastra-Anadón, Paul E. Peterson.

Tiebout theorizes that local public services are provided more efficiently if costs are paid out of local revenues rather than by inter-governmental grants. But if local politics is not as pluralistic as Dahl has argued, citizens of higher socio-economic status will exercise greater influence, resulting in higher inequalities in service provision. We use administrative data to estimate the impacts of local revenue shares on individual performance of a nationally representative sample of over 140,000 U.S. eighth graders in math and reading. Causal effects are estimated with geographic discontinuity models and 2SLS models that use change in housing prices as an instrument. For every 10 percent increase in local revenue share, students perform about 0.05 standard deviations higher. Gains from local funding are less for disadvantaged students. Local financing affords better education for all but widens achievement gaps.

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Beth Schueler, Martin R. West.

Public support for school improvement policies can increase the success and durability of those reforms. However, little is known about public views on turnaround. We deployed questions and embedded experiments in a nationally representative 2017 survey (n=4,214) to uncover opinions regarding (a) which level of government should lead on turnaround and (b) state takeover of troubled districts. We find a large plurality prefers states play the greatest role in identifying and fixing failing schools. However, a substantial share prefers local governments increase their role. We find high levels of support for state takeover, yet support is greater in cases of financial mismanagement than academic underperformance. Those most likely to be directly affected express the least support for state takeover. 

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Jonathan E. Collins.

Is there democratic accountability to the public at the local level, and if so, how does it work? We know that a major part of democratic ability depends on citizens being able to properly evaluate government based on government performance, particularly at the local level. However, we know much less about all of the potential pathways to get from performance to evaluations and vice versa. This study argues that establishing a "deliberative culture" of routine discourse in public meetings can help explain public evaluations and government performance. With a focus on public education, I find evidence that residents of districts with a more deliberative culture are more likely to give positive evaluations of their schools, particularly when residents lack access to information or live in low-performing districts. I also find that in school districts with a more deliberative culture, students - on average - show a higher proficiency in reading and math. This trend also holds true for vulnerable sub- populations: poor students, Black students, and Latinx students. These results suggest that deliberative democracy plays an important role in local and urban politics.

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Ying Shi, John D. Singleton.

In this paper, we study the roles of expertise and independence on governing boards in the context of education. In particular, we examine the causal influence of professional educators elected to local school boards on education production. Educators may bring valuable human capital to school district leadership, thereby improving student learning. Alternatively, the independence of educators may be distorted by interest groups. The key empirical challenge is that school board composition is endogenously determined through the electoral process. To overcome this, we develop and implement a novel research design that exploits California's randomized assignment of the order that candidates appear on election ballots. The insight of our empirical strategy is that ballot order effects generate quasi-random variation in the elected school board's composition. This approach is made possible by a unique dataset that combines election information about California school board candidates with district-level data on education inputs and outcomes. The results reveal that educators on the school board causally increase teacher salaries and reduce district enrollment in charter schools relative to other board members. We do not find accompanying effects on student test scores. We interpret these findings as consistent with educators on school boards shifting bargaining in favor of teachers' unions.

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Travis J. Bristol.

This phenomenological study draws on semi-structured interviews with 27 Black male teachers across 14 schools in an urban school district—seven schools with three or more Black male teachers and seven schools with one Black male teacher. Consistent with theories about teacher turnover, findings indicate a relationship between organizational characteristics, reasons participants cited for leaving, and participants’ actual decisions to stay or leave.

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Morgan Polikoff, Shauna E. Campbell, Cory Koedel, Quynh Tien Le, Tenice Hardaway, Hovanes Gasparian.

Textbooks are a widely used educational intervention that can affect student achievement, and the marginal cost of choosing a more effective textbook is typically small. However, we know little about how textbooks get from the publisher to the classroom. We use a lens of institutional theory and interviews with district leaders in a stratified random sample of 34 California school districts to investigate the ways mathematics textbook adoption practices vary and predict adoption decisions. We find isomorphic, highly formalized adoption processes in most districts. However, we observe some differences along dimensions of district size, technological interest/infrastructure, and English learner concentration. We recommend states produce and update lists of high quality materials early and often, and that they use a highly rigorous evaluation process. We also recommend states experiment with encouraging similar districts to partner on textbook evaluation and adoption to respond to district demands for information and capacity building around curricula.

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Jason B. Cook, Vladimir Kogan, Stéphane Lavertu, Zachary Peskowitz.

Governments around the world have privatized public services in the name of efficiency and citizen empowerment, but some argue that privatization could also affect citizen participation in democratic governance. We explore this possibility by estimating the impact of charter schools (which are publicly funded but privately operated) on school district elections. The analysis indicates that the enrollment of district students in charter schools reduced the number of votes cast in district school board contests and, correspondingly, reduced turnout in the odd-year elections in which those contests are held. This impact is concentrated in districts that serve low-achieving, impoverished, and minority students, leading to a modest decline in the share of voters in those districts who are black and who have children. There is little evidence that charter school expansion affected the outcomes of school board elections or turnout in other elections

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Sarah R. Cohodes, Elizabeth Setren, Christopher R. Walters.

Can schools that boost student outcomes reproduce their success at new campuses? We study a policy reform that allowed effective charter schools in Boston, Massachusetts to replicate their school models at new locations. Estimates based on randomized admission lotteries show that replication charter schools generate large achievement gains on par with those produced by their parent campuses. The average effectiveness of Boston’s charter middle school sector increased after the reform despite a doubling of charter market share. An exploration of mechanisms shows that Boston charter schools reduce the returns to teacher experience and compress the distribution of teacher effectiveness, suggesting the highly standardized practices in place at charter schools may facilitate replicability.

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Eric Brunner, Joshua Hyman, Andrew Ju.

School finance reforms caused some of the most dramatic increases in intergovernmental aid from states to local governments in U.S. history. We examine whether teachers’ unions affected the fraction of reform-induced state aid that passed through to local spending and the allocation of these funds. Districts with strong teachers’ unions increased spending nearly dollar-for-dollar with state aid, and spent the funds primarily on teacher compensation. Districts with weak unions used aid primarily for property tax relief, and spent remaining funds on hiring new teachers. The greater expenditure increases in strong union districts led to larger increases in student achievement.

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