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Research suggests that longer commute times can increase employee turnover probabilities by increasing job stress and reducing job attachment and embeddedness. Using administrative data from a midsized urban school district, we test whether teachers and school leaders with longer commute times are more likely to transfer schools or exit the school system. We find that transfer probability increases roughly monotonically through most of the commute time distribution. Teachers who commute 45 minutes or more to work are 10 percentage points more likely to transfer than another teacher in the same school commuting only 5 minutes. They are also 3 percentage points more likely to leave the district. Consistent with turnover patterns, we find that teachers with longer commute times are more likely to be absent from work. Their observation scores are also lower. These results suggest that schools may benefit from hiring teachers who live relatively close by, at least in the absence of supports or resources to compensate teachers with longer commutes. In contrast, we find no consistent evidence that principals’ or assistant principals’ likelihood of turning over, absence rates, or performance ratings are a function of their travel time from home to work.
A major challenge for states is determining how to support lower levels of government experiencing fiscal or performance challenges without incentivizing future financial mismanagement. Though classical liberal economics tradition argues that decentralization encourages fiscal responsibility, more recent work on fiscal federalism suggests that decentralization could instead encourage fiscal irresponsibility. In this paper, we study one key example of political centralization in the context of public education—state takeovers of local school districts—and its impact on the fiscal condition of the targeted districts. Using event study methods, we find takeovers from 1990 to 2019 increased annual school spending by roughly $2,000 per pupil after five years, leading to improvements in financial condition. Further examination of mechanisms suggests that increased funding was used for employee benefits and debt retirement and came primarily from state sources. The effects on spending were larger when accompanied by accountability mechanisms, and when they occurred in larger districts and districts with higher baseline debt levels. Takeover was less impactful for districts serving higher concentrations of Black students.
Drawing on 16 years of nationally representative survey data from 2007-2022, I demonstrate that partisan gaps—the average differences in public opinion between Democrats and Republicans—have widened on many education issues. The growth of the partisan gaps consistently exceeds what would be expected due to the changing demographic compositions of the parties alone. In most cases, widening partisan gaps are primarily attributable to sorting (the alignment of one’s party affiliation and one’s issue positions) rather than polarization (increasing support for more extreme positions relative to more moderate positions). However, polarization is also increasing on some of the most divisive issues. Among those who are sorting, individuals are overwhelmingly switching their issues positions to align with their party affiliations rather than switching their party affiliations to align with their issue positions.
In spring 2020, nearly every U.S. public school closed at the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic. Existing evidence suggests that local political partisanship and teachers union strength were better predictors of fall 2020 school re-opening status than Covid case and death rates. We replicate and extend these analyses using data collected over the 2020-21 academic year. We demonstrate that Covid case and death rates were meaningfully associated with initial rates of in-person instruction. We also show that all three factors—Covid, partisanship, and teachers unions—became less predictive of in-person instruction as the school year continued. We then leverage data from two nationally representative surveys of Americans’ attitudes toward education and identify an as-yet undiscussed factor that predicts in-person instruction: public support for increasing teacher salaries. We speculate that education leaders were better able to manage the logistical and political complexities of school re-openings in communities with greater support for educators.
We evaluate the effects of grade retention on students’ academic, attendance, and disciplinary outcomes in Indiana. Using a regression discontinuity design, we show that third grade retention increases achievement in English Language Arts (ELA) and math immediately and substantially, and the effects persist into middle school. We find no evidence of grade retention effects on student attendance or disciplinary incidents, again into middle school. Our findings combine to show that Indiana’s third grade retention policy improves achievement for retained students without adverse impacts along (measured) non-academic dimensions.
We study teachers’ choices about how to allocate class time across different instructional activities, for example, lecturing, open discussion, or individual practice. Our data come from secondary schools in England, specifically classes preceding GCSE exams. Students score higher in math when their teacher devotes more class time to individual practice and assessment. In contrast, students score higher in English if there is more discussion and work with classmates. Class time allocation predicts test scores separate from the quality of the teacher’s instruction during the activities. These results suggest opportunities to improve student achievement without changes in teachers’ skills.
When an employee expects repeated evaluation and performance incentives over time, the potential future rewards create an incentive to invest in building relevant skills. Because new skills benefit job performance, the effects of an evaluation program can persist after the rewards end or even anticipate the start of rewards. I test for persistence and anticipation effects, along with more conventional predictions, using a quasi-experiment in Tennessee schools. Performance improves with new evaluation measures, but gains are larger when the teacher expects future rewards linked to future scores. Performance rises further when incentives start and remains higher even after incentives end.
We examine the state of the U.S. K-12 teaching profession over the last half century by compiling nationally representative time-series data on four interrelated constructs: professional prestige, interest among students, preparation for entry, and job satisfaction. We find a consistent and dynamic pattern across every measure: a rapid decline in the 1970s, a swift rise in the 1980s, relative stability for two decades, and a sustained drop beginning around 2010. The current state of the teaching profession is at or near its lowest levels in 50 years. We identify and explore a range of factors that might explain these historical patterns including education funding, teacher pay, outside opportunities, unionism, barriers to entry, working conditions, accountability, autonomy, and school shootings.
Policy makers periodically consider using student assignment policies to improve educational outcomes by altering the socio-economic and academic skill composition of schools. We exploit the quasi-random reassignment of students across schools in the Wake County Public School System to estimate the academic and behavioral effects of being reassigned to a different school and, separately, of shifts in peer characteristics. We rule out all but substantively small effects of transitioning to a different school as a result of reassignment on test scores, course grades and chronic absenteeism. In contrast, increasing the achievement levels of students' peers improves students' math and ELA test scores but harms their ELA course grades. Test score benefits accrue primarily to students from higher-income families, though students with lower family income or lower prior performance still benefit. Our results suggest that student assignment policies that relocate students to avoid the over-concentration of lower-achieving students or those from lower-income families can accomplish equity goals (despite important caveats), although these reassignments may reduce achievement for students from higher-income backgrounds.
We develop a unifying conceptual framework for understanding and predicting teacher shortages at the state, region, district, and school levels. We then generate and test hypotheses about geographic, grade level, and subject variation in teacher shortages using data on teaching vacancies in Tennessee during the fall of 2019. We find that teacher staffing challenges are highly localized, causing shortages and surpluses to coexist. Aggregate descriptions of staffing challenges mask considerable variation between schools and subjects within districts. Schools with fewer local early-career teachers, smaller district salary increases, worse working conditions, and higher historical attrition rates have higher vacancy rates. Our findings illustrate why viewpoints about, and solutions to, shortages depend critically on whether one takes an aggregate or local perspective.