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Analyzing heterogeneous treatment effects plays a crucial role in understanding the impacts of educational interventions. A standard practice for heterogeneity analysis is to examine interactions between treatment status and pre-intervention participant char- acteristics, such as pretest scores, to identify how different groups respond to treatment. This study demonstrates that identical observed patterns of heterogeneity on test score outcomes can emerge from entirely distinct data-generating processes. Specifically, we describe scenarios in which treatment effect heterogeneity arises from either variation in treatment effects along a pre-intervention participant characteristic or from correlations between treatment effects and item easiness parameters. We demonstrate analytically and through simulation that these two scenarios cannot be distinguished if analysis is based on summary scores alone as such outcomes are insufficient to identify the relevant generating process. We then describe a novel approach that identifies the relevant data-generating process by leveraging item-level data. We apply our approach to a randomized trial of a reading intervention in second grade, and show that any apparent heterogeneity by pretest ability is driven by the correlation between treatment effect size and item easiness. Our results highlight the potential of employing measurement principles in causal analysis, beyond their common use in test construction.
This study leverages national data and a quasi-experimental design to examine the influence of enrolling in an exclusively online degree program on students’ likelihood of completing their degree. We find that enrolling in an exclusively online degree program had a negative influence on students’ likelihood of completing their bachelor’s degree or any degree when compared to their otherwise-similar peers who enrolled in at least some face-to-face courses. The negative relationship between exclusively online enrollment and students’ likelihood of bachelor’s degree completion was relatively consistent among White, Black, Hispanic, Asian, low-income, and military students. Findings focused solely on those students enrolled in exclusively online degree programs revealed that the negative influence of exclusively online enrollment was exacerbated when the student attended a for-profit four-year institution.
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.
Although existing research suggests that students benefit on a range of outcomes when they enroll in early algebra classes, policy efforts that accelerate algebra enrollment for large numbers of students often have negative effects. Explanations for this apparent contradiction often emphasize the potential role of teacher and peer effects, which could create positive effects for individual students placed into early algebra that would not translate to larger-scale policies. We use detailed data from Oregon that contain information on the teachers and peers to whom students are exposed in order to investigate these explanations. Our regression discontinuity analyses replicate key findings from prior studies, indicating that placement in eighth-grade algebra boosts student achievement in math and English language arts. We then demonstrate that eighth-grade algebra placement positively affects the achievement level of students’ classmates, as well as the years of experience and value added of students’ math teachers. The effects on peer composition that we observe are large enough to plausibly explain the majority of the effects of eighth-grade algebra on student test scores.
While multiple studies have examined the impact of school turnaround, less is known about reforms under the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). To advance this literature, we examine North Carolina’s Restart (NCR) model. NCR aligns with ESSA by giving school leaders increased flexibility. Also, NCR differs from previous turnaround models by repackaging a traditionally sanction-based approach to instead motivate school leaders with increased autonomy. Using comparative interrupted time series models, we find positive NCR effects in math, but not in English Language Arts or on non-test-based student outcomes. Also, nearly a quarter of the positive NCR effect can be explained by decreased teacher and principal turnover. These results provide evidence to support current shifts toward reform models featuring local autonomy.
This study reports the findings from a year-long randomized evaluation assessing the impact of assigning 62 classrooms in Nigeria to receive either blocked or interleaved math problem sets. Blocked practice sessions focused on a single skill at a time. Interleaved problem sets alternated between different skills within a practice session. On tests of short-term retention, interleaved practice increased test scores by 0.29 standard deviations. In contrast, we find no evidence that interleaving improves average performance on a cumulative assessment measuring retention of material over the academic year. We find some evidence of large impacts on the cumulative assessment at the bottom of the distribution, but these impacts appear to be offset by negative impacts at the top.
While recent studies have demonstrated the potential of automated feedback to enhance teacher instruction in virtual settings, its efficacy in traditional classrooms remains unexplored. In collaboration with TeachFX, we conducted a pre-registered randomized controlled trial involving 523 Utah mathematics and science teachers to assess the impact of automated feedback in K-12 classrooms. This feedback targeted “focusing questions” – questions that probe students’ thinking by pressing for explanations and reflection. Our findings indicate that automated feedback increased teachers’ use of focusing questions by 20%. However, there was no discernible effect on other teaching practices. Qualitative interviews revealed mixed engagement with the automated feedback: some teachers noticed and appreciated the reflective insights from the feedback, while others had no knowledge of it. Teachers also expressed skepticism about the accuracy of feedback, concerns about data security, and/or noted that time constraints prevented their engagement with the feedback. Our findings highlight avenues for future work, including integrating this feedback into existing professional development activities to maximize its effect.
Practice-based teacher education has increasingly been adopted as an alternative to more traditional, conceptually-focused pedagogies, yet the field lacks causal evidence regarding the relative efficacy of these approaches. To address this issue, we randomly assigned 185 college students to one of three experimental conditions reflective of common conceptually-focused and practice-based teacher preparation pedagogies. We find significant and large positive effects of practice-based pedagogies on participants’ skills in eliciting and responding to student thinking as demonstrated through a written assessment and a short teaching episode. Our findings contribute to a developing evidence base that can assist policymakers and teacher educators in designing effective teacher preparation at scale.
This paper studies how school spending impacts student achievement by exploiting the US interstate branching deregulation as state tax revenue shocks. Leveraging school finance data from universal school districts, our difference-in-differences estimation reveals that deregulation leads to an increase in per-pupil total revenue and expenditure. The rise in revenue is primarily attributed to higher state revenues, while the expenditure increase is more prominent in low-income school districts. Using restricted-use student assessments from the Nation’s Report Card, we find that deregulation results in improved student achievement, with no distributional effects evident across students’ ability, race, or free lunch status. We introduce an instrumental variables approach that accounts for dynamic treatment effects and estimate that a one-thousand-dollar increase in per-pupil spending leads to a 0.035 standard deviation improvement in student achievement.
Market-based policies, especially school vouchers, are expanding rapidly and shifting students out of traditional public schools. This essay broadens, deepens, and updates prior critiques of the free market logic in five ways. First, while prior articles have pointed to some of the conditions necessary for efficient market functioning, I provide a more comprehensive list. Second, with an up-to-date literature review, I show that all of these conditions fail to hold to an unusual extent in schooling, relative to other markets. Third, because of these failures, I argue that the strongest critique of the free market approach to schooling comes from the intellectual home of markets—economics. Fourth, I show that the issues leading to inefficiency are the same ones leading to inequity. Fifth, I argue that the analysis points to specific roles for government, which go well beyond those included in new universal school voucher policies, but which are also narrower than the roles of government encompassed in traditional public education. For these reasons, the current direction of policy is off-track and apparently inconsistent with the main criteria on which we evaluate education policy and even with the values that voucher advocates themselves profess.