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K-12 Education

Rajeev Darolia, Andrew Sullivan.

There is no national consensus on how school districts calculate high school achievement disparities between students who experience homelessness and those who do not. Using administrative student-level data from a mid-sized public school district in the Southern United States, we show that commonly used ways of defining which students are considered homeless can yield markedly different estimates of the homelessness-housed student high school graduation gap. The key distinctions among homelessness definitions relate to how to classify homeless students who become housed and how to consider students who transfer out of the district or drop out of school. Eliminating housing insecurity-related achievement disparities necessitates understanding the link between homelessness and educational achievement; how districts quantify homelessness affects measured gaps.

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Dylan Lukes, Christopher Cleveland.

Between 1935-1940 the Home Owners' Loan Corporation (HOLC) assigned A (minimal risk) to D (hazardous) grades to neighborhoods that reflected their "mortgage security" and visualized these grades on color-coded maps used by banks and other mortgage lenders to provide or deny home loans within residential neighborhoods. In this study, we leverage a spatial analysis of 144 HOLC-graded core-based statistical areas (CBSAs) to understand how historic HOLC maps relate to current patterns of school funding, racial diversity, and performance. We find districts and schools located today in historically redlined neighborhoods have less district-level per-pupil revenues, larger shares of Black and non-White student bodies, less diverse student populations, and worse average test scores relative to those located in A, B, and C neighborhoods. These nationwide results are consistent by region and when controlling for CBSA. Finally, we document a persistence in these patterns across time, with overall positive time trends regardless of HOLC grade but widening gaps between D vs. A, B, and C outcomes. These findings suggest that education policymakers need to consider the historical implications of redlining and past neighborhood inequality on neighborhoods today when designing modern interventions focused on improving life outcomes of students of color.

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Briana Ballis, Katelyn Heath.

Black students are about 1.5 times more likely to be receiving special education (SpEd) services relative to white students. While there is concern that this implies some black students are inappropriately placed in SpEd, the impacts of the disproportionate representation of minority students in SpEd remains unclear. Using administrative data from Texas, we find that capping black disproportionality led to small gains in high school completion and college attainment for black students in special and general education. Overall, our results suggest that reductions in SpEd misclassification among black students may serve to reduce gaps in later-life success across race.

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Jing Liu, Monica Lee, Seth Gershenson.
We provide novel evidence on the causal impacts of student absences in middle and high school on state test scores, course grades, and educational attainment using a rich administrative dataset that tracks the date and class period of each absence. We use two similar but distinct identification strategies that address potential endogeneity due to time-varying student-level shocks by exploiting within-student, between-subject variation in class-specific absences. We also leverage information on the timing of absences to show that absences that occur after the annual window for state standardized testing do not affect test scores, providing a further check of our identification strategy. Both approaches yield similar results. We nd that absences in middle and high school harm contemporaneous student achievement and longer-term educational attainment: On average, missing 10 classes reduces math or English Language Arts test scores by 3-4% of a standard deviation and course grades by 17-18% of a standard deviation. 10 total absences across all subjects in 9th grade reduce both the probability of on-time graduation and ever enrolling in college by 2%. Learning loss due to school absences can have profound economic and social consequences.

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Bradley D. Marianno, Stefani R. Relles.

This case study offers an organizational perspective on the ways in which a collective bargaining agreement shaped the administrative functioning of schools within an urban district. The data demonstrate how rational choice assumptions failed to account for the everyday site interactions between principals and teachers. Using complexity theory as an analytic tool, the authors consider the interference of external pressures on a system defined by internal interdependence. Reforms that address the complexity of workplace conditions in K-12 contexts are offered.

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Melissa Arnold Lyon.

Although the Janus v. AFCSME (2018) decision fundamentally changed the institutional context for U.S. teachers’ unions by placing all public school teachers in a “Right to Work” (RTW) framework, little research exists to conceptualize the effects of such policies that hinder unionization. To fill this gap, I exploit the different timing across states in the passage of RTW policies in a differences-in-differences framework to identify how exposure to a RTW policy affects students, teachers, and education policymaking. I find that RTW policies lead to declines in teachers’ union power, but contrary to what many union critics have argued, I find that efforts to weaken unions did not result in political opportunities for education reforms nor did they improve student achievement outcomes.

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C. Kirabo Jackson, Claire Mackevicius.

We use estimates across all known "credibly causal" studies to examine the distributions of the causal effects of public K12 school spending on test scores and educational attainment in the United States. Under reasonable assumptions, for each of the 31 included studies, we compute the same parameter estimate. Method of moments estimates indicate that, on average, a $1000 increase in per-pupil public school spending (for four years) increases test scores by 0.044 standard deviations, high-school graduation by 2.1 percentage points, and college-going by 3.9 percentage points. The pooled averages are significant at the 0.0001 level. When benchmarked against other interventions, test score impacts are much smaller than those on educational attainment -- suggesting that test-score impacts understate the value of school spending. The benefits to capital spending increases take about five-to-six years to materialize, but after this, one cannot reject that the average marginal effects differ across capital and non-capital spending types. The marginal spending impacts are much less pronounced for economically advantaged populations. Consistent with a cumulative effect, the educational attainment impacts are larger with more years of exposure to the spending increase. Average impacts are similar across a wide range of baseline spending levels -- providing little evidence of diminishing marginal returns at current spending levels.

To speak to generalizability, we estimate the variability across studies attributable to effect heterogeneity (as opposed to sampling variability). This heterogeneity explains about 40 and 70 percent of the variation across studies for educational attainment and test scores, respectively, which allows us to provide a range of likely policy impacts. A policy that increases per-pupil spending for four years will improve test scores 92 percent of the time, and educational attainment even more often.  We find suggestive evidence consistent with small possible publication bias, but demonstrate that any effects on our estimates are minimal.

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Michael Gilraine, Odhrain McCarthy.

We show that fade out biases value-added estimates at the teacher-level. To do so, we use administrative data from North Carolina and show that teachers' value-added depend on the quality of the teacher that preceded them. Value-added estimators that control for fade out feature no such teacher-level bias. Under a benchmark policy that releases teachers in the bottom five percent of the value-added distribution, fifteen percent of teachers released using traditional techniques are not released once fade out is accounted for. Our results highlight the importance of incorporating dynamic features of education production into the estimation of teacher quality.  

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Andrew C. Johnston.

Human capital shapes income, inequality, and growth. In the public sphere, human-capital formation depends largely on the selection and retention of teachers. To understand how to improve selection and retention, I use a discrete-choice experiment to estimate teacher preferences for compensation structure, working conditions, and contracts. High-performing teachers have stronger preferences for schools offering performance pay, which implies it promotes positive selection. Under a variety of school objectives, schools appear to underpay in salary and performance pay while overpaying in retirement. The results suggest significant efficiency gains from restructuring compensation: teacher welfare and student achievement can be simultaneously much improved.

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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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