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School districts in the United States often borrow on the municipal bond market to pay for capital projects. Districts serving economically disadvantaged communities tend to receive lower credit ratings and pay higher interest rates. To remedy this problem, 24 states have established credit enhancement programs that promise to repay district debt when a district cannot do so, thereby enhancing the district’s credit rating. I rely on cross- and within-district variations to estimate the effect of receiving state credit enhancement on district bond interest rate, per-pupil capital spending, and student performance. State enhancement reduces district bond interest rates by 6% and increases per-student capital spending by 6% to 7%. It also reduces the disparity in interest rate and capital spending across districts serving lower and higher income families, with no discernible effect on test scores. I find no evidence that the amount of enhanced school debt is associated with significant changes in interest rates paid by state governments. Districts in states without such programs could have achieved cost savings in the range of $383 million to $1 billion from 2009 to 2019 had the states adopted similar programs.
There has been an explosion of special education research and new policies surrounding the topic of racial and ethnic disproportionality. Some recent research shifts focus to whether school context moderates findings (e.g., is a Black student less likely than a White student to receive special education services as the proportion of a school’s Black students increases?). We extend this emerging literature using eight years of elementary student-and school-level data from NYC public schools, examining more school contextual moderators, expanding racial categories, and distinguishing between cross-sectional and over-time differences. We find that student racial/ethnic composition, teacher racial composition, school size, concentration of poor students, and teachers’ perceptions of school climate all moderate disproportionality. These school context factors appear to be particularly salient for the classification of Black students, and most of these associations are driven by differences across schools, suggesting new avenues for researchers and levers for policy.
The distribution of teaching effectiveness across schools is fundamental to understanding how schools can address disparities in educational outcomes. Research and policy have recognized the importance of teaching effectiveness for decades. Five stylized facts predict that teachers should be differentially allocated across schools such that poor, Black and Hispanic students are taught by less qualified and less effective teachers. Yet, research is unclear whether these predictions have empirical support. Our purpose is to better understand whether there are meaningful differences in teacher effectiveness among schools. We find that poor, Black and Hispanic students are more likely to be taught by novice teachers when they live in more segregated MSAs. Moreover, the geographic nature of segregation varies across MSAs. Differentiating segregation within urban districts and segregation between urban districts and outlying districts in the same MSAs is essential to understanding poor students’ exposure to novice teachers and policies that address these disparities. We find that poor, Black and Hispanic students are 50 percent more likely to be exposed to at least one novice teacher during elementary school compared to their more affluent white peers. These results raise questions regarding the enforcement of ESSA’s requirements on the distribution of teacher qualifications and quality.
Policymakers have renewed calls for expanding instructional time in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. We establish a set of empirical facts about time in school, synthesize the literature on the causal effects of instructional time, and conduct a case study of time use in an urban district. On average, instructional time in U.S. public schools is comparable to most high-income countries, with longer days but shorter years. However, instructional time varies widely across U.S. public schools with a 90th-10th percentile difference of 190 total hours. Empirical literature confirms that additional time can increase student achievement, but how this time is structured matters. Our case study suggests schools might also recover substantial lost learning time within the existing school day.
Nearly all states with public prekindergarten programs use mixed-delivery systems, with classrooms in both public schools and community-based settings. However, experts have long raised concerns about systematic inequities by setting within these public systems. We used data from five large-scale such systems that have taken steps to improve equity by setting (Boston, New York City, Seattle, New Jersey, and West Virginia) to conduct the most comprehensive descriptive study of prekindergarten setting differences to date. Our public school sample included 2,395 children in 383 classrooms in 152 schools, while our community-based sample is comprised of 1,541 children in 201 classrooms in 103 community-based organizations (CBOs). We examined how child and teacher demographic characteristics, structural and process quality features, and child gains differed by setting within each of these systems. We found evidence of sorting of children and teachers by setting within each locality, including of children with higher baseline skills and more educated teachers into public schools. Where there were differences in quality and children’s gains, these tended to favor public schools. The localities with fewer policy differences by setting – NJ and Seattle – showed fewer differences in quality and child gains. Our findings suggest that inequities by setting are common, appear consequential, and deserve more research and policy attention.
Schools often track students to classes based on ability. Proponents of tracking argue it is a low-cost tool to improve learning since instruction is more effective when students are more homogeneous, while opponents argue it exacerbates initial differences in opportunities without strong evidence of efficacy. In fact, little is known about the pervasiveness or determinants of ability tracking in the US. To fill this gap, we use detailed administrative data from Texas to estimate the extent of tracking within schools for grades 4 through 8 over the years 2011-2019. We find substantial tracking; tracking within schools overwhelms any sorting by ability that takes place across schools. The most important determinant of tracking is heterogeneity in student ability, and schools operationalize tracking through the classification of students into categories such as gifted and disabled and curricular differentiation. When we examine how tracking changes in response to educational policies, we see that schools decrease tracking in response to accountability pressures. Finally, when we explore how exposure to tracking correlates with student mobility in the achievement distribution, we find positive effects on high-achieving students with no negative effects on low-achieving students, suggesting that tracking may increase inequality by raising the ceiling.
This paper contributes to our understanding of American education politics by exploring when and why states redistribute K-12 education dollars to poorer schools. It does so by examining three explanations for intra-state changes in progressivity: court-ordered finance reforms, political trends, and demographic changes. Using state-level data from 1995-2016, we find mixed evidence that progressivity increased following a court-ordered school finance overhaul. Rather, we show that changes in progressivity were most consistently tied to changes in student demography: as students became poorer, or more racially diverse, lawmakers created less progressive finance systems. The paper concludes by discussing what these findings mean for advocates seeking to protect and advance gains in education spending progressivity.
We exploit historical natural experiments to test whether universities increase economic mobility and equality. We use "runner-up’" counties that were strongly considered to become university sites but were not selected for as-good-as-random reasons as counterfactuals for university counties. University establishment causes greater intergenerational income mobility but also increases cross-sectional income inequality. We highlight four findings to explain this seeming paradox: universities hollow out the local labor market and provide greater opportunities to achieve top incomes, both of which increase cross-sectional inequality, and increase educational attainment and connections to high-SES people, which prevent inequality from perpetuating into intergenerational immobility.
We estimate the longer-run effects of attending an effective high school (one that improves a combination of test scores, survey measures of socio-emotional development, and behaviors in 9th grade) for students who are more versus less educationally advantaged (i.e., likely to attain more years of education based on 8th-grade characteristics). All students benefit from attending effective schools, but the least advantaged students experience larger improvements in high-school graduation, college going, and school-based arrests. This heterogeneity is not solely due to less-advantaged groups being marginal for particular outcomes. Commonly used test-score value-added understates the long-run importance of effective schools, particularly for less-advantaged populations. Patterns suggest this partly reflects less-advantaged students being relatively more responsive to non-test-score dimensions of school quality.
Levels of governance (the nation, states, and districts), student subgroups (racially and ethnically minoritized and economically disadvantaged students), and types of resources (expenditures, class sizes, and teacher quality) intersect to represent a complex and comprehensive picture of K-12 educational resource inequality. Drawing on multiple sources of the most recently available data, we describe inequality in multiple dimensions. At the national level, racially and ethnically minoritized and economically disadvantaged students receive between $30 and $800 less in K-12 expenditures per pupil than White and economically advantaged students. At the state and district levels, per-pupil expenditures generally favor racially and ethnically minoritized and economically disadvantaged students compared to White and economically advantaged students. Looking at nonpecuniary resources, minoritized and economically disadvantaged students have smaller class sizes than their subgroup counterparts in the average district, but these students also have greater exposure to inexperienced teachers. We see no evidence that district-level spending in favor of traditionally disadvantaged subgroups is explained by district size, average district spending, teacher turnover, or expenditures on auxiliary staff, but Black and Hispanic spending advantage is correlated with the relative size of the Black and Hispanic special education population.