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K-12 Education

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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Daniel Rodriguez-Segura, Beth E. Schueler.

School closures induced by COVID-19 placed heightened emphasis on alternative ways to measure student learning besides in-person exams. We leverage the administration of phone-based assessments (PBAs) measuring numeracy and literacy for primary school children in Kenya, along with in-person standardized tests administered to the same students prior to school shutdowns, to assess the validity of PBAs. Compared to repeated in-person assessments, PBAs did not severely misclassify students’ relative performance, but PBA scores did tend to be further from baseline in-person scores than repeated in-person assessments from each other. As such, PBAs performed well at measuring aggregate but not individual learning levels. Administrators can therefore use these tools for aggregate measurement, such as in the context of impact evaluation, but be wary of PBAs for individual-level tracking or high-stakes decisions. Results also reveal the importance of making deliberate efforts to reach a representative sample and selecting items that provide discriminating power.

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Kathryn Gonzalez, Kathleen Lynch, Heather C. Hill.

Despite growing evidence that classroom interventions in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) can increase student achievement, there is little evidence regarding how these interventions affect teachers themselves and whether these changes predict student learning. We present results from a meta-analysis of 37 experimental studies of preK-12 STEM professional learning and curricular interventions, seeking to understand how STEM classroom interventions affect teacher knowledge and classroom instruction, and how these impacts relate to intervention impacts on student achievement. Compared with control group teachers, teachers who participated in STEM classroom interventions experienced improvements in content and pedagogical content knowledge and classroom instruction, with a pooled average impact estimate of +0.56 standard deviations. Programs with larger impacts on teacher practice yielded larger effects on student achievement, on average. Findings highlight the positive effects of STEM instructional interventions on teachers, and shed light on potential teacher-level mechanisms via which these programs influence student learning.

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Margot Jackson, Daniel Schneider.

Families and governments are the primary sources of investment in children, proving access to basic resources and other developmental opportunities.  Recent research identifies significant class gaps in parental investments that contribute to high levels of inequality by family income and education and, potentially, to inequality in children’s development.  State-level public investments in children and families have the potential to reduce class inequality in children’s developmental environments by affecting parents’ behavior.  Using newly assembled administrative data from 1998-2014, linked to household-level data from the Consumer Expenditure Survey, we examine how public sector investment in income support, health and education is associated with the private expenditures of low and high-SES parents on developmental items for children. Are class gaps in parental investments in children narrower in contexts of higher public investment for children and families?  We find that more generous public spending for children and families is associated with significantly narrower class gaps in private parental investments.  Moreover, we find that equalization is driven by bottom up increases in low-SES household spending for the progressive investments of income support and health, and by top down decreases in high-SES household spending for the universal investment of public education.

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Jing Liu, Michael S. Hayes, Seth Gershenson.
We use novel data on disciplinary referrals, including those that do not lead to suspensions, to better understand the origins of racial disparities in exclusionary discipline. We find significant differences between Black and white students in both referral rates and the rate at which referrals convert to suspensions. An infraction fixed-effects research design that compares the disciplinary outcomes of white and non-white students who were involved in the same multi-student incident identifies systematic racial biases in sentencing decisions. On both the intensive and extensive margins, Black and Hispanic students receive harsher sentences than their white co-conspirators. This result is driven by high school infractions and mainly applies to “more severe” infractions that involve fights or drugs. Reducing racial disparities in exclusionary discipline will require addressing underlying gaps in disciplinary referrals and the systematic biases that appear in the adjudication process.

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Katharine Meyer, Kelli A. Bird, Benjamin L. Castleman.
With rapid technological transformations to the labor market, many working adults return to college after graduation to obtain additional training or credentials. Using a comparative individual fixed effects strategy and an administrative panel dataset of enrollment and employment in Virginia, we provide the first causal estimates of credential “stacking” – earning two or more community college certificates or degrees – among working adults. We find stacking increases employment by four percentage points and quarterly wages by $375 (four percent). Returns are larger for individuals studying in Health and who return to college after first completing a short-term certificate.

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Emily Morton.

Four-day school weeks have proliferated across the United States in recent years, reaching over 650 public school districts in 24 states as of 2019, but little is known about their implementation and there is no consensus on their effects on students. This study uses district level panel data from Oklahoma and a difference-in-differences research design to provide estimates of the causal effect of the four-day school week on high school students’ ACT scores, attendance, and disciplinary incidents during school. Results indicate that four-day school weeks decrease per-pupil bullying incidents by approximately 39% and per-pupil fighting incidents by approximately 31%, but have no detectable effect on other incident types, ACT scores, or attendance.

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Andrew C. Johnston, Jonah Rockoff.

As unfunded pension liabilities grow, governments experiment with ways to curb costs. We examine the effect of a representative cost-cutting reform on the retention and productivity of workers. The reform reduced pension annuities and increased penalties for early retirement, projected to save 8 percent of revenues. We leverage administrative records and a discontinuity in the reform to estimate its effect on labor supply. The reform slightly increased worker retention, and we can rule out small attrition effects. The reform had no effect on worker output. The extensive and intensive margins of labor supply appear to be maintained under the reform.

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Aaron Phipps.

Using administrative data from D.C. Public Schools, I use exogenous variation in the presence and intensity of teacher monitoring to show it significantly improves student test scores and reduces suspensions. Uniquely, my setting allows me to separately identify the effect of pre-evaluation monitoring from post-evaluation feedback. Monitoring's effect is strongest among teachers with a large incentive to increase student test scores. As tests approach, unmonitored teachers sacrifice higher-level learning, classroom management, and student engagement, even though these pedagogical tasks are among the most effective. One possible explanation is teachers ``teach to the test'' as a risk mitigation strategy, even if it is less effective on average. This is supported by showing teaching to the test has a smaller effect on student test score variance than other teaching approaches. These results illustrate the importance of monitoring in contexts where teachers have the strongest incentive to deviate from pedagogically sound practices.

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Michael Gottfried, Michael Little, Arya Ansari.

The benefits of student-teacher ethnoracial matching on student outcomes—ranging from academic achievement to postsecondary attainment—are well documented. Yet, we know far less about the role of student-teacher ethnoracial matching in the earliest grades school and on less about effects on non-academic outcomes. The purpose of this study is to advance our understanding of student-teacher ethnoracial matching in early elementary school by exploring two executive function outcomes – working memory and cognitive flexibility. Drawing on data from the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study – Kindergarten Class of 2011, our findings suggest student-teacher ethnoracial matching benefits on working memory skills, though not cognitive flexibility. Observed associations for working memory are of similar size to those for academic achievement outcomes and are largest for Black and Latinx students.

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