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Lucy C. Sorensen

Lucy C. Sorensen, Montserrat Avila Acosta, John Engberg, Shawn D. Bushway.

U.S. public school students increasingly attend schools with sworn law enforcement officers present. Yet, little is known about how these school resource officers (SROs) affect school environments or student outcomes. Our study uses a fuzzy regression discontinuity (RD) design with national school-level data from 2014 to 2018 to estimate the impacts of SRO placement. We construct this discontinuity based on the application scores of nearby police agencies for federal school-based policing grants. We find that SROs do effectively reduce some forms of violence in schools, but do not prevent school shootings or gun-related incidents. We also find that SROs intensify the use of suspensions, expulsions, police referrals, and arrests of students. These effects are consistently over two times larger for Black students than White students. Finally, we observe that SROs increase chronic absenteeism, particularly for students with disabilities.

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Lucy C. Sorensen, Shawn D. Bushway, Elizabeth J. Gifford.

Nationwide, school principals are given wide discretion to use disciplinary tools like suspension and expulsion to create a safe learning environment. There is legitimate concern that this power can have negative consequences, particularly for the students who are excluded. This study uses linked disciplinary, education, and criminal justice records from 2008 to 2016 in North Carolina to examine the impact of principal driven disciplinary decisions on middle school student outcomes. We find that principals who are more likely to remove students lead to reductions in reported rates of minor student misconduct. However, this deterrence comes at a high cost – these harsher principals generate more juvenile justice complaints and reduce high school graduation rates for all students in their schools. Students who committed minor disciplinary infractions in a school with a harsh principal suffer additional declines in attendance and test scores. Finally, principals exhibiting racial bias in their disciplinary decisions also widen educational gaps between White and Black students.

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Lucy C. Sorensen, Stephen B. Holt.

Since their introduction in the 1990s, charter schools have grown from a small-scale experiment to a ubiquitous feature of the public education landscape. The current study uses the legislative removal of a cap on the maximum number of charters, and the weakening of regulations on these new schools, in North Carolina as a natural experiment to assess the intensive impacts of charter school growth on teacher quality and student composition in traditional public schools (TPS) at different levels of local market penetration. Using an instrumental variable difference-in-differences approach to account for endogenous charter demand, we find that intensive local charter entry reduces the inflow of new teachers at nearby TPS, leading to a more experienced and credentialed teaching workforce on average. However, we find that the entry of charters serving predominantly White students leads to reductions in average teacher experience, effectiveness, and credentials at nearby TPS. Overall these findings suggest that the composition of the teacher workforce in TPS will continue to change as charter schools further expand, and that the spillover effects of future charter expansion will vary by the types of students served by charters.

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Lucy C. Sorensen, Helen F. Ladd.

High teacher turnover imposes numerous burdens on the schools and districts from which teachers depart. Some of these burdens are explicit and take the form of recruiting, hiring and training costs. Others are more hidden and take the form of changes to the composition and quality of the teaching staff. This study focuses on the latter. We ask how schools respond to spells of high teacher turnover, and assess organizational and human capital effects. Our analysis uses two decades of administrative data on math and ELA middle school teachers in North Carolina to determine school responses to turnover across different policy environments and macroeconomic climates. Based on models controlling for school contexts and trends, we find that turnover has marked, and lasting, negative consequences for the quality of the instructional staff and student achievement. Our results highlight the need for heightened policy attention to school specific issues of teacher retention.

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