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Matthew A. Kraft

Jessalynn James, Matthew A. Kraft, John Papay.

We explore the dynamics of competitive search in the K-12 public education sector. Using data from Boston Public Schools, we document how teacher labor supply varies substantially by position types, schools, and the timing of job postings. We find that early-posted positions are more likely to be filled and end up securing new hires that are better-qualified, more-effective, and more likely to remain at a school. In contrast, the number of applicants to a position is largely unassociated with hire quality, suggesting that schools may struggle to identify and select the best candidates even when there is a large pool of qualified applicants. Our findings point to substantial unrealized potential for improving teacher hiring.

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Joshua Bleiberg, Eric Brunner, Erica Harbatkin, Matthew A. Kraft, Matthew Springer.

Starting in 2009, the U.S. public education system undertook a massive effort to institute new high-stakes teacher evaluation systems. We examine the effects of these reforms on student achievement and attainment at a national scale by exploiting the staggered timing of implementation across states. We find precisely estimated null effects, on average, that rule out impacts as small as 1.5 percent of a standard deviation for achievement and 1 percentage point for high school graduation and college enrollment. We also find little evidence of heterogeneous effects across an index measuring system design rigor, specific design features, and district characteristics.

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Matthew A. Kraft, Joshua Bleiberg.

Economic downturns can cause major funding shortfalls for U.S. public schools, often forcing districts to make difficult budget cuts including teacher layoffs. In this brief, we synthesize the empirical literature on the widespread teacher layoffs caused by the Great Recession. Studies find that teacher layoffs harmed student achievement and were inequitably distributed across schools, teachers, and students. Research suggests that specific elements of the layoff process can exacerbate these negative effects. Seniority-based policies disproportionately concentrate layoffs among teachers of color who are more likely to be early career teachers. These “last-in first-out” policies also disproportionately affect disadvantaged students because these students are more likely to be taught by early career teachers. The common practice of widely distributing pink slips warning about a potential job loss also appears to increase teacher churn and negatively impact teacher performance. Drawing on this evidence, we outline a set of policy recommendations to minimize the need for teacher layoffs during economic downturns and ensure that the burden of any unavoidable job cuts does not continue to be borne by students of color and students from low-income backgrounds.

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Melissa Arnold Lyon, Matthew A. Kraft.

Teacher strikes have gained national attention with the “#RedforEd” movement. Such strikes are polarizing events that could serve to elevate education as a political priority or cast education politics in a negative light. We investigate this empirically by collecting original panel data on U.S. teacher strikes, which we link to congressional election campaign advertisements. Election ads provide a useful window into political discourse because they are costly to sponsors, consequential for voter behavior, and predictive of future legislative agendas. Using a differences-in-differences framework, we find that teacher strikes dramatically increase education issue salience, with impacts concentrated among positively-framed ads. Effects are driven by strikes lasting only a few days and occurring in battleground areas with highly-contested elections.

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Matthew A. Kraft, Manuel Monti-Nussbaum.

Narrative accounts of classroom instruction suggest that external interruptions, such as intercom announcements and visits from staff, are a regular occurrence in U.S. public schools. We study the frequency, nature, and duration of external interruptions in the Providence Public School District (PPSD) using original data from a district-wide survey and classroom observations. We estimate that a typical classroom in PPSD is interrupted over 2,000 times per year, and that these interruptions and the disruptions they cause result in the loss of between 10 to 20 days of instructional time. Administrators appear to systematically underestimate the frequency and negative consequences of these interruptions. We propose several organizational approaches schools might adopt to reduce external interruptions to classroom instruction.

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Matthew A. Kraft, Alexander Bolves, Noelle M. Hurd.

We document a largely unrecognized pathway through which schools promote human capital development – by fostering informal mentoring relationships between students and school personnel. Using longitudinal data from a large, nationally representative sample of adolescents, we explore the frequency, nature, and consequences of school-based natural mentorships. Estimates across a range of fixed effect (FE) specifications, including student FE and twins FE models, consistently show that students with school-based mentors achieve greater academic success and higher levels of post-secondary attainment. These apparent benefits are evident for students across a wide range of backgrounds but are largest for students of lower socioeconomic status.

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Matthew A. Kraft, Alvin Christian.

A core motivation for the widespread teacher evaluation reforms of the last decade was the belief that these new systems would promote teacher development through high-quality feedback. We examine this theory by studying teachers’ perceptions of evaluation feedback in Boston Public Schools and evaluating the district’s efforts to improve feedback through an administrator training program. Teachers generally reported that evaluators were trustworthy, fair, and accurate, but that they struggled to provide high-quality feedback. We find little evidence the training program improved perceived feedback quality, classroom instruction, teacher self-efficacy, or student achievement. Our results illustrate the challenges of using evaluation systems as engines for professional growth when administrators lack the time and skill necessary to provide frequent, high-quality feedback.

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John Papay, Matthew A. Kraft, Jessalynn James.

Numerous high-profile efforts have sought to “turn around” low-performing schools. Evidence on the effectiveness of school turnarounds, however, is mixed, and research offers little guidance on which models are more likely to succeed. We present a mixed-methods case study of turnaround efforts led by the Blueprint Schools Network in three schools in Boston. Using a difference-in-differences framework, we find that Blueprint raised student achievement in ELA by at least a quarter of a standard deviation, with suggestive evidence of comparably large effects in math. We document qualitatively how differential impacts across the three Blueprint schools relate to contextual and implementation factors. In particular, Blueprint’s role as a turnaround partner (in two schools) versus school operator (in one school) shaped its ability to implement its model. As a partner, Blueprint provided expertise and guidance but had limited ability to fully implement its model. In its role as an operator, Blueprint had full authority to implement its turnaround model, but was also responsible for managing the day-to-day operations of the school, a role for which it had limited prior experience.

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Matthew A. Kraft, Nicole S. Simon, Melissa Arnold Lyon.

COVID-19 shuttered schools across the United States, upending traditional approaches to education. We examine teachers’ experiences during emergency remote teaching in the spring of 2020 using responses to a working conditions survey from a sample of 7,841 teachers across 206 schools and 9 states. Teachers reported a range of challenges related to engaging students in remote learning and balancing their professional and personal responsibilities. Teachers in high-poverty and majority Black schools perceived these challenges to be the most severe, suggesting the pandemic further increased existing educational inequities. Using data from both pre-post and retrospective surveys, we find that the pandemic and pivot to emergency remote teaching resulted in a sudden, large drop in teachers’ sense of success. We also demonstrate how supportive working conditions in schools played a critical role in helping teachers to sustain their sense of success. Teachers were less likely to experience declines in their sense of success when they worked in schools with strong communication, targeted training, meaningful collaboration, fair expectations, and authentic recognition during the pandemic.

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Matthew A. Kraft, Grace Falken.

In this thought experiment, we explore how tutoring could be scaled nationally to address COVID-19 learning loss and become a permanent feature of the U.S. public education system. We outline a blueprint centered on ten core principles and a federal architecture to support adoption, while providing for local ownership over key implementation features. High school students would tutor in elementary schools via an elective class, college students in middle schools via federal work-study, and full time 2- and 4-year college graduates in high schools via AmeriCorps. We envision an incremental, demand-driven expansion process with priority given to high-needs schools. Our blueprint highlights a range of design tradeoffs and implementation challenges as well as estimates of program costs. Our estimates suggest that targeted approaches to scaling school-wide tutoring nationally, such as focusing on K-8 Title I schools, would cost between $5 and $15 billion annually.

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