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Educator labor markets

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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Dan Goldhaber, Cyrus Grout, Kris Holden, Josh B. McGee.

Over the last two decades, twenty-two states have moved away from traditional defined benefit (DB) pension systems and toward pension plan structures like the defined contribution (DC) plans now prevalent in the private sector. Others are considering such a reform as it is seen as a means of limiting future pension funding risk. It is important to understand the implications of such reforms for end-of-career exit patterns and workforce composition. Empirical evidence on the relationship between pension plan structure and retirement timing is currently limited, primarily because, most state pension reforms are so new that few employees enrolled in those alternative plans have reached retirement age. An exception, and the subject of our analysis, is the teacher retirement system in Washington State, which introduced a hybrid DB-DC plan in 1996 and allowed employees in its traditional DB plan to transfer into the new plan. Our analysis focuses on a years-of-service threshold, the crossing of which grants employees early retirement eligibility and, in many cases, a large upward shift in retirement wealth. The financial implications of crossing this threshold are far greater under the state’s traditional DB plan than under the hybrid plan. We find that employees are responsive to crossing the years-of-service threshold, but we fail to find significant evidence that the propensity to exit the workforce varies according to plan enrollment.

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Maxwell J. Cook, Cory Koedel, Michael Reda.

We estimate the education and earnings returns to enrolling in technical two-year degree programs at community colleges in Missouri. A unique feature of the Missouri context is the presence of a highly-regarded, nationally-ranked technical college: State Technical College of Missouri (State Tech). Compared to enrolling in a non-technical community college program, we find that enrolling in a technical program at State Tech greatly increases students’ likelihoods of graduation and earnings. In contrast, there is no evidence that technical education programs at other Missouri community colleges increase graduation rates, and our estimates of the earnings impacts of these other programs are much smaller than for State Tech. Our findings exemplify the importance of institutional differences in driving the efficacy of technical education and suggest great potential for high-quality programs to improve student outcomes.

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Brendan Bartanen, Aliza N. Husain.

A growing literature uses value-added (VA) models to quantify principals' contributions to improving student outcomes. Principal VA is typically estimated using a connected networks model that includes both principal and school fixed effects (FE) to isolate principal effectiveness from fixed school factors that principals cannot control. While conceptually appealing, high-dimensional FE regression models require sufficient variation to produce accurate VA estimates. Using simulation methods applied to administrative data from Tennessee and New York City, we show that limited mobility of principals among schools yields connected networks that are extremely sparse, where VA estimates are either highly localized or statistically unreliable. Employing a random effects shrinkage estimator, however, can alleviate estimation error to increase the reliability of principal VA.

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Alex Eble, Feng Hu.

Colleges can send signals about their quality by adopting new, more alluring names. We study how this affects college choice and labor market performance of college graduates. Administrative data show name-changing colleges enroll higher-aptitude students, with larger effects for alluring-but-misleading name changes and among students with less information. A large resume audit study suggests a small premium for new college names in most jobs, and a significant penalty in lower-status jobs. We characterize student and employer beliefs using web-scraped text, surveys, and other data. Our study shows signals designed to change beliefs can have real, lasting impacts on market outcomes.

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Dan Goldhaber, Matt Kasman, Vanessa Quince, Roddy Theobald, Malcolm Wolff.

We use publicly available, longitudinal data from Washington state to study the extent to which three interrelated processes—teacher attrition from the state teaching workforce, teacher mobility between teaching positions, and teacher hiring for open positions—contribute to “teacher quality gaps” (TQGs) between students of color and other students in K–12 public schools. Specifically, we develop and implement an agent-based model simulation of decisions about attrition, mobility, and hiring to assess the extent to which each process contributes to observed TQGs. We find that eliminating inequities in teacher mobility and hiring across different schools would close TQGs within 5 years, while just eliminating inequities in teacher hiring would close gaps within 10 years. On the other hand, eliminating inequities in teacher attrition without addressing mobility and hiring does little to close gaps.

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Luis A. Rodriguez, Julie Pham, Briana K. Gonçalves.

Disparate turnover among teachers of color remains a persistent educational challenge, yet little research explores the link between school leadership, peer teaching staff, and turnover disparities. This study explores whether principal and peer teacher demographics predict teacher turnover in New York City, and whether they do so differently for teachers of color. We find teachers are less likely to exit when their principal and a higher share of peer teachers are of the same race/ethnicity, with Black teachers having especially lower transfer rates with a higher share of Black peer teachers. However, results suggest school leadership style and positive teacher relationships are not differentially associated with turnover for teachers of color. We conclude with a discussion of implications.

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Joshua Bleiberg, Matthew A. Kraft.

The COVID-19 pandemic upended the U.S. education system and the economy in ways that dramatically affected the jobs of K-12 educators. However, data limitations have led to considerable uncertainty and conflicting reports about the nature of staffing challenges in schools. We draw on education employment data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) and State Education Agencies (SEA) to describe patterns in K-12 education employment and to highlight the limitations of available data. Data from the BLS suggest overall employment in the K-12 labor market declined by 9.3 percent at the onset of the pandemic and remains well below pre-pandemic levels. SEA data suggest that teachers have not (yet) left the profession in mass as many predicted, but that turnover decreased in the summer of 2020. We explore possible explanations for these patterns including (1) weak hiring through the summer of 2020 and (2) high attrition among K-12 instructional support staff. State vacancy data also suggest that schools are facing substantial challenges filling open positions during the 2021-22 academic year. Our analyses illustrate the imperative to build more timely, detailed, and nationally representative data systems on the K-12 education labor market to better inform policy.  

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Tuan D. Nguyen, Elizabeth Bettini, Christopher Redding, Allison F. Gilmour.

Many studies rely on public sector employees’ reported career intentions instead of measuring actual turnover, but research does not clearly document how these variables relate to one another. We develop and test three ways in which measures of employee intentions and turnover might relate to one another: (a) intention may measure the same underlying construct as turnover; (b) intention may be distinct from but strongly related to turnover; or (c) intentions may be distinct from turnover. Using nationally representative data on 102,970 public school teachers, we conduct a descriptive and regression analysis to probe how teachers’ turnover intentions are and are not associated with attrition. While there is some variation across measures of intent, we find evidence most consistent with the second scenario; intention is distinct from, but strongly related to, turnover. We offer recommendations for how researchers should use public sector employee intentions in research.

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Brendan Bartanen, Andrew Kwok.

Strengthening teacher supply is a key policy objective for K12 public education, but understanding of the early teacher pipeline remains limited. We leverage the universe of applications to a large public university in Texas from 20092020 to examine the pipeline into teacher education and employment as a K12 public school teacher. A unique feature of Texas's centralized higher education application is it solicits potential interest in teacher certification. We document sharply declining interest in teaching over the period. Further, we show that nonwhite, male, and high-achieving students are substantially underrepresented in teacher education. Particularly for race/ethnicity, these disparities are only partially explained by differences in interest at application.

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