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K-12 Education

Jeanne Lafortune, Todd Pugatch, José Tessada, Diego Ubfal.

We study the short-run effects of a gamified online entrepreneurship training offered to high school students in Rwanda during the COVID-19 pandemic. Using a randomized controlled trial, we estimate sizeable effects of the 6-week training on entrepreneurial activity. One month after the training, participants in schools offered the training were much more likely to own a business than participants in control schools. The training induced students to participate more actively in their school's business club, to undertake more business-oriented actions, to improve their business practices, and to interact more with other youth and family members about their business ideas. We hypothesize that the training might have motivated treated students to sustain their business activities during the COVID-19 crisis.

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Jane Arnold Lincove, Catherine Mata, Kalena E. Cortes.

High school exit exams are meant to standardize the quality of public high schools and to ensure that students graduate with a set of basic skills and knowledge. Evidence suggests that a common perverse effect of exit exams is an increase in dropout for students who have difficulty passing tests, with a larger effect on minority students. To mitigate this, some states offer alternative, non-tested pathways to graduation for students who have failed their exit exams. This study investigates the post-secondary effects of an alternative high school graduation program. Among students who initially fail an exit exam, those who eventually graduate through an alternative project-based pathway have lower college enrollment, but similar employment outcomes to students who graduate by retaking and passing their exit exams. Compared to similar students who fail to complete high school, those students who take the alternative pathway have better post-secondary outcomes in both education and employment.

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S. Michael Gaddis, Joseph Murphy.

Scholarly debate focuses on whether cultural capital reproduces existing inequalities or provides a path to upward mobility. Most research, however, focuses only on cross-sectional associations and is unclear about how disadvantaged adolescents can increase their amounts of cultural capital. Traditionally, most adolescents’ interactions with adults occur across two axes of socialization: families and schools. Families provide opportunities to increase cultural capital
while schools value and reward cultural capital. Thus, if adolescents do not obtain cultural capital through their families, they may be at a significant disadvantage when navigating the education system. We hypothesize that adolescents may be able to increase cultural capital through valuable social capital access and exposure – their ties to and meeting frequency with other important adults with knowledge of the education system. We investigate this topic using
experimental longitudinal data on mentoring relationships. We find that high levels of social capital access and exposure positively affect cultural capital, but only for adolescents with highly educated parents. Our findings suggest that cultural capital may not be an engine of social mobility if adolescents from low-SES households cannot acquire or increase their cultural capital.

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Sarah Ausmus Smith, Ron Zimmer.

Over the past fifty years, school districts have consolidated in an effort to achieve economies of scale. While the determinants and effects of district mergers on operations have been studied (Gordon and Knight 2006; Duncombe and Yinger 2007; Jones et al 2008), the impact on communities has not. In small towns, schools not only educate, but also provide stable employment and are a cornerstone for community engagement and local identity. In this article, we examine whether district mergers have adverse effects on the community at large. We evaluate the effects of rural school district consolidations on town population size, number of schools, and property values using a propensity score matched difference-in-differences design, leveraging a 2003 Arkansas state law requiring reorganization using an enrollment cutoff. We estimate that the reform led to reductions in population, community schools, and property value assessments.

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Virginia S. Lovison, Cecilia H. Mo.

While investing in the teacher workforce is central to improving schools, school resources are notoriously limited, forcing school leaders to make difficult decisions on how to prioritize funds. This paper examines a critical input to resource allocation decisions: teacher preferences. Using an original, online discrete choice survey experiment with a national sample of 1,030 U.S. teachers, we estimate how much teachers value different features of a hypothetical teaching job. The findings show that (a) teachers value access to special education specialists, counselors, and nurses more than a 10% salary increase or 3-student reduction in class size, (b) investments in school counselors and nurses are strikingly cost-effective, as the value teachers alone place on each of these support roles far exceeds the per teacher cost of funding these positions, and (c) teachers who are also parents treat a 10% salary increase and a child care subsidy of similar value as near perfect substitutes. These novel estimates of teachers’ willingness to pay for student-based support professionals challenge the idea that inadequate compensation lies at the root of teacher workforce challenges and illustrate that reforms that exclusively focus on salary as a lever for influencing teacher mobility (e.g. transfer incentives) may be poorly aligned to teachers’ preferences.

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Douglas N. Harris, Feng Chen.

We study the combined effects of charter schools, and their various mechanisms, on a national level and across multiple outcomes. Using difference-in-differences and fixed effects methods, we find that charter entry (above 10 percent market share) increases high school graduation rate in geographic districts by about 2-4 percentage points and increases test scores by 0.06-0.16 standard deviations. Charter effects peak with 5-15 percent charter market share. Also, total effects are comprised not only of participant and competitive effects, but also the charter-induced closure of low-performing traditional public schools. The analysis addresses potential endogeneity of charter school location and timing.

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Michael Bates, Michael Dinerstein, Andrew C. Johnston, Isaac Sorkin.

We study whether reallocating existing teachers across schools within a district can increase student achievement, and what policies would help achieve these gains.  Using a model of multi-dimensional value-added, we find meaningful achievement gains from reallocating teachers within a district. Using an estimated equilibrium model of the teacher labor market, we find that achieving most of these gains requires directly affecting teachers' preferences over schools. In contrast, directly affecting principals' selection of teachers can lower student achievement. Our analysis highlights the importance of equilibrium and second-best reasoning in analyzing teacher labor market policies.

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Michel Grosz, Ross T. Milton.

We study a California policy that loosened constraints on some local governments by lowering the share of votes required to pass school capital improvement bond referendums. We show that the policy change yielded larger tax proposals that received less support from voters, yet led to a doubling of approved spending. We show that this effect is concentrated in more racially diverse jurisdictions and that loosening these electoral constraints completely closed the gap in funding between these areas. We develop an agenda-setter model of the interaction between local government officials and voters to illustrate potential mechanisms behind these results.

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Matt S. Giani, Colton E. Krawietz, Tiffany A. Whittaker.

Dual-enrollment courses are theorized to promote students' preparedness for college in part by bolstering their beneficial beliefs, such as academic self-efficacy, educational expectations, and sense of college belonging. These beliefs may also shape students' experiences and outcomes in dual-enrollment courses, yet few if any studies have examined this possibility. We study a large dual-enrollment program created by a university in the Southwest to examine these patterns. We find that mathematics self-efficacy and educational expectations predict performance in dual-enrollment courses, even when controlling for students' academic preparedness, while factors such as high school belonging, college belonging, and self-efficacy in other academic domains are unrelated to academic performance. However, we also find that students of color and first-generation students tend to have lower self-efficacy and educational expectations before enrolling in dual-enrollment courses, in addition to having lower levels of academic preparation. These findings suggest that students from historically marginalized populations may benefit from social-psychological as well as academic supports in order to receive maximum benefits from early postsecondary opportunities such as dual-enrollment. Our findings have implications for how states and dual-enrollment programs determine eligibility for dual-enrollment as well as how dual-enrollment programs should be designed and delivered in order to promote equity in college preparedness.

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Sarah R. Cohodes, Sean P. Corcoran, Jennifer L. Jennings, Carolyn Sattin-Bajaj.

This paper reports the results of a large, school-level randomized controlled trial evaluating a set of three informational interventions for young people choosing high schools in 473 middle schools, serving over 115,000 8th graders. The interventions differed in their level of customization to the student and their mode of delivery (paper or online); all treated schools received identical materials to scaffold the decision-making process. Every intervention reduced likelihood of application to and enrollment in schools with graduation rates below the city median (75 percent). An important channel is their effect on reducing nonoptimal first choice application strategies. Providing a simplified, middle-school specific list of relatively high graduation rate schools had the largest impacts, causing students to enroll in high schools with 1.5-percentage point higher graduation rates. Providing the same information online, however, did not alter students’ choices or enrollment. This appears to be due to low utilization. Online interventions with individual customization, including a recommendation tool and search engine, induced students to enroll in high schools with 1-percentage point higher graduation rates, but with more variance in impact. Together, these results show that successful informational interventions must generate engagement with the material, and this is possible through multiple channels.

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