- Ishtiaque Fazlul
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Numerous studies have demonstrated a strong link between participation in pre-K programs and both short-term student achievement and positive later-life outcomes. Existing evidence primarily stems from experimental studies of small-scale, high-quality programs conducted in the 1960s and 1970s and analyses of the federal Head Start program. Meanwhile, evidence on state-funded pre-K programs, with no income restrictions, is scant and inconclusive. Using enrollment lotteries for over-subscribed school-based sites in Georgia’s universal pre-K program, we analyze the impact of participation on elementary school outcomes. Lottery winners enter kindergarten more prepared in both math and reading than non-winning peers. Gains fade by the end of kindergarten, and some negative achievement effects emerge by grade 4. Free-and-reduced-price meal (FRPM) students benefit more compared to non-FRPM students in later grades, suggesting greater benefits from attendance for disadvantaged students. Although we find no effects for discipline, lottery winners had one fewer absence each grade after kindergarten.
We study the progressivity of state funding of school districts under Tennessee’s weighted student funding formula. We propose a simple definition of progressivity based on the difference in exposure to district per-pupil funding between poor and non-poor students. The realized progressivity of district funding in Tennessee is much smaller—only about 17 percent as large—as the formula weights imply directly. The attenuation is driven by the mixing of poor and non-poor students within districts. We further show the components of the Tennessee formula not explicitly tied to student poverty are only modestly progressive. Notably, special education funding is essentially progressivity-neutral for poor students. If we adjust the formula so all factors except individual student poverty receive zero weight and distribute the excess to poor students, we can increase the progressivity of district funding by 124 percent. We interpret this as the opportunity cost of the non-poverty-based funding components, measured in terms of progressivity.
During the Great Recession and in the years that immediately followed, previous research has well-documented that U.S. public school districts receiving larger shares of their funding from state governments experienced larger declines in expenditures per student, as the GR impacted state tax bases more than it impacted local tax bases. Using detailed financial data from the academic years 2004 to 2020, we analyze the longer-term effects of the GR on a broader array of U.S. public school district finances. Employing both difference-in-differences and event study approaches, our results indicate that public school expenditures and unspent end-of-year fund balances recovered and eventually exceeded pre-GR levels on an inflation-adjusted and per-student basis. However, the funding increases were heterogeneous such that districts receiving larger shares of funding from states were less successful at increasing spending and fund balances through 2020—more than ten years after the GR officially ended. Our empirical strategy survives a host of robustness checks. This pattern is concerning as more state-dependent districts tend to have higher proportions of disadvantaged students.
Measures of student disadvantage—or risk—are critical components of equity-focused education policies. However, the risk measures used in contemporary policies have significant limitations, and despite continued advances in data infrastructure and analytic capacity, there has been little innovation in these measures for decades. We develop a new measure of student risk for use in education policies, which we call Predicted Academic Performance (PAP). PAP is a flexible, data-rich indicator that identifies students at risk of poor academic outcomes. It blends concepts from emerging early warning systems with principles of incentive design to balance the competing priorities of accurate risk measurement and suitability for policy use. In proof-of-concept policy simulations using data from Missouri, we show PAP is more effective than common alternatives at identifying students who are at risk of poor academic outcomes and can be used to target resources toward these students—and students who belong to several other associated risk categories—more efficiently.
Millions of high school students who take an Advanced Placement (AP) course in one of over 30 subjects can earn college credit by performing well on the corresponding AP exam. Using data from four metro-Atlanta public school districts, we find that 15 percent of students’ AP courses do not result in an AP exam. We predict that up to 32 percent of the AP courses that do not result in an AP exam would result in a score of 3 or higher, which generally commands college credit at colleges and universities across the United States. Next, we examine disparities in AP exam-taking rates by demographics and course taking patterns. Most immediately policy relevant, we find evidence consistent with the positive impact of school district exam subsidies on AP exam-taking rates. In fact, students on free and reduced-price lunch (FRL) in the districts that provide a higher subsidy to FRL students than non-FRL students are more likely to take an AP exam than their non-FRL counterparts, after controlling for demographic and academic covariates.
Free and reduced-price meal (FRM) enrollment is commonly used in education research and policy applications as an indicator of student poverty. However, using multiple data sources external to the school system, we show that FRM status is a poor proxy for poverty, with enrollment rates far exceeding what would be expected based on stated income thresholds for program participation. This is true even without accounting for community eligibility for free meals, although community eligibility has exacerbated the problem in recent years. Over the course of showing the limitations of using FRM data to measure poverty, we also provide early evidence on the potential value of two alterative measures of school poverty.