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EdWorkingPapers

Meira Levinson, Alan C. Geller, Joseph G. Allen.

At least 25 million K-12 students in the U.S.—disproportionately children of color from low-income families—have been physically out of school for a full year due to the COVID-19 pandemic. These children are at risk of significant academic, social, mental, and physical harm now and in the long-term. We must determine how to help all students gain access to safe, in-person schooling. In this interdisciplinary Viewpoint, we review the literature about the association between school reopening and COVID-19 transmission rates, and about the political, social, and environmental conditions that shape families’ and teachers’ choices to return to in-person schooling. Even though schools can safely be opened with appropriate mitigation measures, we find four reasons for schooling hesitancy: high community transmission rates; the Trump administration’s politicization of school re-openings in Summer 2020; long-term histories of mutual mistrust and racialized disinvestment in urban districts; and rational calculation about vulnerability due to the social determinants of health that have led Black and Latinx parents disproportionately to keep their children at home and White families disproportionately to send their children to school. Given the deep interconnections between the social determinants of health and of learning, and between schooling hesitancy and community vulnerability, stark inequities in in-person schooling access and take-up are likely to persist. In addition to ramping up safe and speedy school reopening now, we must make a long-term commitment to supporting schools as both sites of and contributors to public health, especially in historically marginalized communities.

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Douglas N. Harris, Jonathan Mills.

We provide theory and evidence about how the design of college financial aid programs affects a variety of high school, college, and life outcomes. The evidence comes from an eight-year randomized trial where 2,587 high school ninth graders received a $12,000 merit-based grant offer. During high school, the program increased their college expectations and non-merit effort but had no effect on merit-related effort (e.g., GPA). After high school, the program increased graduation from two-year colleges only, apparently because of the free college design/framing in only that sector. But we see no effects on incarceration or teen pregnancy. Overall, the results suggest that free college affects student outcomes in ways similar to what advocates of free college suggest and making aid commitments early, well before college starts, increases some forms of high school effort. But we see no evidence that merit requirements are effective. Both the standard human capital model and behavioral economics are required to explain these results.

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Lina Anaya, Nagore Iriberri, Pedro Rey-Biel, Gema Zamarro.

Standardized assessments are widely used to determine access to educational resources with important consequences for later economic outcomes in life. However, many design features of the tests themselves may lead to psychological reactions influencing performance. In particular, the level of difficulty of the earlier questions in a test may affect performance in later questions. How should we order test questions according to their level of difficulty such that test performance offers an accurate assessment of the test taker's aptitudes and knowledge? We conduct a field experiment with about 19,000 participants in collaboration with an online teaching platform where we randomly assign participants to different orders of difficulty and we find that ordering the questions from easiest to most difficult yields the lowest probability to abandon the test, as well as the highest number of correct answers. Consistent results are found exploiting the random variation of difficulty across test booklets in the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA), a triannual international test, for the years of 2009, 2012, and 2015, providing additional external validity. We conclude that the order of the difficulty of the questions in tests should be considered carefully, in particular when comparing performance between test-takers who have faced different order of questions.

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Jeffrey T. Denning, Eric R. Eide, Kevin J. Mumford, Daniel Sabey.

After increasing in the 1970s and 1980s, time to bachelor’s degree has declined since the 1990s. We document this fact using data from three nationally representative surveys. We show that this pattern is occurring across school types and for all student types. Using administrative student records from 11 large universities, we confirm the finding and show that it is robust to alternative sample definitions. We discuss what might explain the decline in time to bachelor’s degree by considering trends in student preparation, state funding, student enrollment, study time, and student employment during college.

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M. Danish Shakeel, Paul E. Peterson.

Principals (policy makers) have debated the progress in U. S. student performance for a half century or more. Informing these conversations, survey agents have administered seven million psychometrically linked tests in math and reading in 160 waves to national probability samples of selected cohorts born between 1954 and 2007. This study is the first to assess consistency of results by agency. We find results vary by agent, but consistent with Flynn effects, gains are larger in math than reading, except for the most recent period. Non-whites progress at a faster pace. Socio-economically disadvantaged white, black, and Hispanic students make greater progress when tested in elementary school, but that advantage attenuates and reverses itself as students age. We discuss potential moderators.

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Benjamin W. Domingue, Heather J. Hough, David Lang, Jason Yeatman.

Education has faced unprecedented disruption during the COVID-19 pandemic; evidence about the subsequent effect on children is of crucial importance. We use data from an oral reading fluency (ORF) assessment—a rapid assessment taking only a few minutes that measures a fundamental reading skill—to examine COVID’s effects on children’s reading ability during the pandemic in more than 100 U.S. school districts. Effects were pronounced, especially for Grades 2–3, but distinct across spring and fall 2020. While many students were not assessed in spring 2020, those who were seemed to have experienced relatively limited or no growth in ORF relative to gains observed in other years. In fall 2020, a far more representative set of students was observed. For those students, growth was more pronounced and seemed to approach levels observed in previous years. Worryingly, there were also signs of stratification such that students in lower-achieving districts may be falling further behind. However, at the level of individual students, those who were struggling with reading prior to the pandemic were not disproportionately impacted in terms of ORF growth. This data offers an important window onto how a foundational skill is being affected by COVID-19 and this approach can be used in the future to examine how student abilities recover as education enters a post-COVID paradigm.

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M. Danish Shakeel, Paul E. Peterson.

Scholars differ as to whether populist beliefs are a discourse or an ideology resembling conservatism or liberalism. Research has shown that a belief in popular sovereignty and a distrust of public officials are core components of populism. Its antithesis is defined as Burke’s claim that officials should exercise their own judgment rather than pander to the public. A national probability sample of U. S. adults is asked to respond to six items that form a populist scale, rank themselves on a conservative-liberal scale, and state their views on education issues. The two scales are only moderately correlated, and each is independently correlated with many opinions about contemporary issues. Populism has a degree of coherence that approximates but does not match that of the conservative-liberal dimension.

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Daniel Oliver, Robert Fairlie, Glenn Millhauser, Randa Roland.

Graduate student teaching assistants from underrepresented groups may provide salient role models and enhanced instruction to minority students in STEM fields. We explore minority student-TA interactions in an important course in the sciences and STEM – introductory chemistry labs – at a large public university. The uncommon assignment method of students to TA instructors in these chemistry labs overcomes selection problems, and the small and active learning classroom setting with required attendance provides frequent interactions with the TA. We find evidence that underrepresented minority students are less likely to drop courses and are more likely to pass courses when assigned to minority TAs, but we do not find evidence of effects for grades and medium-term outcomes. The effects for the first-order outcomes are large with a decrease in the drop rate by 5.5 percentage points on a base of 6 percent, and an increase in the pass rate of 4.8 percentage points on a base of 93.6 percent. The findings are similar when we focus on Latinx student - Latinx TA interactions. The findings are robust to first-time vs. multiple enrollments in labs, specifications with different levels of fixed effects, limited choice of TA race, limited information of TAs, and low registration priority students. The findings have implications for debates over increasing diversity among PhD students in STEM fields because of spillovers to minority undergraduates.

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Gregory Gilpin, Ezra Karger, Peter Nencka.

Local governments spend over 12 billion dollars annually funding the operation of 15,000 public libraries in the United States. This funding supports widespread library use: more than 50% of Americans visit public libraries each year. But despite extensive public investment in libraries, surprisingly little research quantifies the effects of public libraries on communities and children. We use data on the near-universe of U.S. public libraries to study the effects of capital spending shocks on library resources, patron usage, student achievement, and local housing prices. We use a dynamic difference-in-difference approach to show that library capital investment increases children’s attendance at library events by 18%, children’s checkouts of items by 21%, and total library visits by 21%. Increases in library use translate into improved children’s test scores in nearby school districts: a $1,000 or greater per-student capital investment in local public libraries increases reading test scores by 0.02 standard deviations and has no effects on math test scores. Housing prices do not change after a sharp increase in public library capital investment, suggesting that residents internalize the increased cost and improved quality of their public libraries.

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Lois Miller, Minseon Park.

Many state governments impose tuition regulations on universities in pursuit of college affordability. How effective are these regulations? We study how universities' "sticker price'' and institutional financial aid change during and after tuition caps and freezes by leveraging temporal and geographic variation in the United States from 1990 to 2013. We find that listed tuition is lower than it would have been in the absence of the regulation by 6.3 (9.3) percentage points at four-year (two-year) colleges during the regulation. Meanwhile, the negative impact on institutional aid at four-year colleges during a tuition cap/freeze is nearly double (-11.3 percentage points) the impact on listed tuition, implying that universities adjust institutional aid in order to recoup some of their losses from the tuition cap/freeze. Effects are long-lasting at four-year institutions; two years after the regulation is lifted, tuition is 7.3 percentage points lower and institutional aid is 19.5 percentage points lower than it would have been without the regulation. Meanwhile at two-year colleges, tuition "catches up" so that by three years after the end of the regulation tuition is not statistically different from what it would have been in the absence of the regulation. Universities that are not research-intensive and universities that have a greater dependency on tuition revenue exhibit larger negative impacts on institutional aid with smaller impacts on "sticker price''. Our estimates suggest that tuition caps and freezes do not simply lower the prices that students pay for college and that the benefit of tuition regulations is unequally spread across types of universities and students.

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