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Education outside of school (after school, summer…)

Matthew D. Baird, John Engberg, Isaac M. Opper.

We consider the case in which the number of seats in a program is limited, such as a job training program or a supplemental tutoring program, and explore the implications that peer effects have for which individuals should be assigned to the limited seats. In the frequently-studied case in which all applicants are assigned to a group, the average outcome is not changed by shuffling the group assignments if the peer effect is linear in the average composition of peers. However, when there are fewer seats than applicants, the presence of linear-in-means peer effects can dramatically influence the optimal choice of who gets to participate. We illustrate how peer effects impact optimal seat assignment, both under a general social welfare function and under two commonly used social welfare functions. We next use data from a recent job training RCT to provide evidence of large peer effects in the context of job training for disadvantaged adults. Finally, we combine the two results to show that the program's effectiveness varies greatly depending on whether the assignment choices account for or ignore peer effects.

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Catherine Armstrong Asher, Ethan Scherer, James S. Kim.

Parental text messaging interventions are growing in popularity to encourage at-home reading, school-attendance, and other educational behaviors. These interventions, which often combine multiple components, frequently demonstrate varying amounts of effectiveness, and researchers often cannot determine how individual components work alone or in combination with one another. Using a 2x2x3 factorial experiment, we investigate the effects of individual and interacted components from three behavioral levers to support summer reading: providing updated, personalized information; emphasizing different reading views; and goal setting. We find that the personalized information condition scored on average 0.03 SD higher on fall reading assessments. Texting effects on test scores were enhanced by messages that emphasized reading being useful for both entertainment and building skills compared to skill building alone or entertainment alone. These results continue to build our understanding that while text message can be an effective tool for parent engagement, the specific content of the message can lead to meaningful differences in the magnitude of the effects.

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Stacey L. Brockman.

This paper presents results from a randomized trial of a nudge intervention designed to encourage and enhance virtual student support. During the 2019-20 school year, randomly selected mentors in a school-based mentoring program received monthly reminders with tips for communicating with youth via text, email, and phone. Unexpectedly, the results showed that although the informational reminders did not impact the frequency of mentors’ outreach, they reduced the rate at which students reached out and responded to their mentors. Moreover, and possibly as a consequence, mentors who received the intervention felt less connected to students and less satisfied with their mentoring relationships, and treated students gained less from the mentoring program as a whole in terms of their personal and attitudinal growth. This study’s findings add an important nuance to the evidence on how behavioral interventions in educational contexts operate. Although past studies find that reminder nudges can support individuals’ engagement in discrete tasks, this evidence suggests that prescribing relational practices may be less effective. Thus, mentor supports must be carefully designed in order to yield the intended benefits for students.

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Cynthia Bansak, Xuan Jiang, Guanyi Yang.

We study sibling spillover effects on the school performance of the elder sibling from the younger sibling using data on multi-children households in rural China. We use the variation in the younger sibling’s schooling status to parse out the spillover effects and exploit the arbitrary school enrollment eligibility cutoff dates imposed by the Chinese Law of Compulsory Education as exogenous variation in the timing of school enrollment. We find a significant increase in school test scores of elder siblings when their younger siblings begin school. The strongest spillover effects occur when the younger sibling is a girl. Such increases in test scores come from a more intense academic atmosphere within a household when both children enroll in school and are not attributed to differential parental education investments or attitudes. Our findings suggest that policies promoting girls’ education, pre-elementary school age education programs, and after school public resources can have multiplier effects through sibling spillovers.

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Anjali Adukia, Alex Eble, Emileigh Harrison, Hakizumwami Birali Runesha, Teodora Szasz.

Books shape how children learn about society and social norms, in part through the representation of different characters. To better understand the messages children encounter in books, we introduce new artificial intelligence methods for systematically converting images into data. We apply these image tools, along with established text analysis methods, to measure the representation of race, gender, and age in children’s books commonly found in US schools and homes over the last century. We find that more characters with darker skin color appear over time, but "mainstream" award-winning books, which are twice as likely to be checked out from libraries, persistently depict more lighter-skinned characters even after conditioning on perceived race. Across all books, children are depicted with lighter skin than adults. Over time, females are increasingly present but are more represented in images than in text, suggesting greater symbolic inclusion in pictures than substantive inclusion in stories. Relative to their growing share of the US population, Black and Latinx people are underrepresented in the mainstream collection; males, particularly White males, are persistently overrepresented. Our data provide a view into the "black box" of education through children’s books in US schools and homes, highlighting what has changed and what has endured.

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Matthew A. Lenard, Mikko Silliman.

We study the effects of informal social interactions on academic achievement and behavior using idiosyncratic variation in peer groups stemming from changes in bus routes across elementary, middle, and high school. In early grades, a one standard-deviation change in the value-added of same-grade bus peers corresponds to a 0.01 SD change in academic performance and a 0.03 SD change in behavior; by high school, these magnitudes grow to 0.04 SD and 0.06 SD. These findings suggest that student interactions outside the classroom—especially in adolescence—may be an important factor in the education production function.

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Plamen Nikolov, Steve Yeh.

Cognition, a component of human capital, is fundamental for decision-making, and understanding the causes of human capital depreciation in old age is especially important in aging societies. Using various proxy measures of cognitive performance from a longitudinal survey in South Africa, we study how education affects cognition in late adulthood. We show that an extra year of schooling improves memory performance and general cognition. We find evidence of heterogeneous effects by gender: the effects are stronger among women. We explore potential mechanisms, and we show that a more supportive social environment, improved health habits, and reduced stress levels likely play a critical role in mediating the beneficial effects of educational attainment on cognition among the elderly.

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Jeehee Han, Amy Ellen Schwartz.

Is public housing bad for children? Critics charge that public housing projects concentrate poverty and create neighborhoods with limited opportunities, including low-quality schools. However, whether the net effect is positive or negative is theoretically ambiguous and likely to depend on the characteristics of the neighborhood and schools compared to origin neighborhoods. In this paper, we draw on detailed individual-level longitudinal data on students moving into New York City public housing and examine their academic outcomes over time. Exploiting plausibly random variation in the precise timing of entry into public housing, we estimate credibly causal effects of public housing using both difference-in-differences and event study designs. We find credibly causal evidence of positive effects of moving into public housing on student test scores, with larger effects over time. Stalled academic performance in the first year of entry may reflect, in part, disruptive effects of residential and school moves. Neighborhood matters: effects are larger for students moving out of low-income neighborhoods or into higher-income neighborhoods, and these students move to schools with higher average test scores and lower shares of economically disadvantaged peers. We also find some evidence of improved attendance outcomes and reduction in incidence of childhood obesity for boys following public housing residency. Our study results refute the popular belief that public housing is bad for kids and probe the circumstances under which public housing may work to improve academic outcomes for low-income students.

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Beth E. Schueler, Daniel Rodriguez-Segura.

Covid-19-induced school closures generated great interest in tutoring as a strategy to make up for lost learning time. Tutoring is backed by a rigorous body of research, but it is unclear whether it can be delivered effectively remotely. We study the effect of teacher-student phone call interventions in Kenya when schools were closed. Schools (n=105) were randomly assigned for their 3rd, 5th and 6th graders (n=8,319) to receive one of two versions of a 7-week weekly math-focused intervention—5-minute accountability checks or 15-minute mini-tutoring sessions—or to the control group. Although calls increased student perceptions that teachers cared, accountability checks had no effect on math performance up to four months after the intervention and tutoring decreased math achievement among students who returned to their schools after reopening. This was, in part, because the relatively low-achieving students most likely to benefit from calls were least likely to return and take in-person assessments. Tutoring substituted away from more productive uses of time, at least among returning students. Neither intervention affected enrollment. Tutoring remains a valuable tool but to avoid unintended consequences, careful attention should be paid to aligning tutoring interventions with best practices and targeting interventions to those who will benefit most.

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Fulya Y Ersoy.

How does the perceived relationship between effort and achievement affect effort? To answer this question, I conduct a field experiment with a popular online learning platform. I exogenously manipulate students’ beliefs about returns to effort by assigning them to different information treatments, each of which provides factual information. Students update their beliefs towards the information provided and change their study effort in the same direction with the shifts in their beliefs. This result shows that students’ beliefs about the returns to effort is an important component of their human capital accumulation and low-cost information interventions can influence these beliefs.

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