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Sixty-seven school finance reforms (SFRs) in 27 states have taken place since 1990; however, there is little empirical evidence on the heterogeneity of SFR effects. We provide a comprehensive description of how individual reforms affected resource allocation to low- and high-income districts within states. We then examine whether characteristics of the SFR, such as the funding formula that was adopted, predict effect size heterogeneity. Taken together, this research aims to provide a rich description of variation in states' responses to SFRs, as well as explanation of this heterogeneity as it relates to contextual factors.
Using detailed administrative data for public schools, we document racial and ethnic segregation at the classroom level in North Carolina, a state that has experienced a sharp increase in Hispanic enrollment. We decompose classroom-level segregation in counties into within-school and between-school components. We find that the within-school component accounted for a sizable share of total segregation in middle schools and high schools. Recognizing its importance could temper the praise for school assignment policies that reduce racial disparities between schools but allow large disparities within them. More generally, we observe between the two components a complementary relationship, with one component tending to be large when the other one is small. Comparing the degree of segregation for the state’s two largest racial/ethnic minority groups, we find that White/Hispanic segregation was more severe than White/Black segregation, particularly within schools. Analyzed as separate administrative units, schools with large shares of Black students tended to have more White/Black segregation across classrooms than schools with smaller shares. Finally, we examine enrollment patterns by course and show that school segregation brings with it differences by race and ethnicity in the courses that students take, with White students more likely to be enrolled in advanced classes.
Principals shape the academic setting of schools. Yet, there is limited evidence on whether principal professional development improves schooling outcomes. In 2008-09, Pennsylvania’s Inspired Leadership (PIL) induction program required that newly hired principals complete targeted in-service professional development tied to newly established state leadership standards within five years of employment. Using panel data on all Pennsylvania students, teachers, and principals, we employ difference-in-differences and event study strategies to estimate the impact of PIL induction on teacher and student outcomes. We find that PIL induction improved teacher effectiveness (in math) and student math achievement, and that the effects of PIL induction on teacher effectiveness were concentrated among the most economically and academically disadvantaged schools in Pennsylvania. Principal professional development had the greatest impact on teacher effectiveness when principals completed PIL induction during their first two years in the principalship. We also find evidence that teacher turnover declined in the years following the completion of PIL induction. We discuss the implications of our findings for principal induction efforts.
We investigate the male–female gap in principal compensation in state and national data: detailed longitudinal personnel records from the state of Missouri and repeated cross-sections from the nationally representative Schools and Staffing Survey (SASS). In both data sets, we estimate substantively important compensation gaps for school leaders. In Missouri, female principals make approximately $1,400 less annually than their male colleagues with similar characteristics leading the same school in different years. SASS analyses show that women make about $900 less than men nationally, on average. These gaps are only partially explained by sorting, career paths, and other labor supply-side mechanisms, suggesting that gender discrimination contributes to male–female pay differences in school leadership.
States and localities cannot avoid dealing with issues of teacher compensation. Not only is it the largest budget item for most local governments, but it is the place of largest leverage for improving the quality of schools. Fortunately, consistent research evidence directly informs ways to optimize teacher compensation.
This research provides strong motivation for improving teacher compensation. First, it shows that teachers are paid significantly less than they could earn outside of teaching. Second, teacher salaries have been stagnant, largely because personnel budgets have been more directed toward increasing the number of educators and administrators than toward supporting teachers. But simply increasing pay without consideration of teacher effectiveness will not lead to improved student outcomes.
The economic status of both students and the nation as a whole could be dramatically improved with increases in school quality. But with pressures on public budgets—due importantly to the growing costs of public pensions and health benefits—personnel dollars will have to be used more strategically if our students are to compete internationally. Moreover, the nation has a substantial equity problem: achievement gaps have been constant for a half century despite a wide variety of federal, state, and local policies designed to address them.
The effects of competition from public charter schools on district school budget decisions are theoretically ambiguous. Competitive pressures could increase desired budget autonomy since they give district school leaders more flexibility; however, competition could decrease desired budget autonomy if district school leaders are generally risk-averse or if they believe that central office staff are in better positions to make school-level budget decisions. Competitive pressures could also increase or decrease changes in school-level spending depending on school leaders’ beliefs about how to efficiently allocate resources.
We randomly assign surveys to district school leaders in Texas in the 2019-20 school year to determine the effects of anticipated competition from public charter schools on reported desire for budget autonomy and expectations about future school-level spending decisions. We find the first experimental evidence to suggest that anticipated charter school competition has large negative effects on school leaders’ reported spending on certain categories of support staff, and reduces, or has no effect on, the reported desire for more school-level budget autonomy. The negative effects on spending for support staff tend to be larger for school leaders with more experience.
We use close tax elections to estimate the impact of school district funding increases on operational spending and student outcomes across seven states. Districts with passing levies directed new revenue toward support services and instructor salaries but did not increase teacher staffing levels. These districts eventually realized gains in student achievement and attainment. Our preferred estimates imply that increasing operational spending by $1,000 per pupil increased test scores by approximately 0.15 of a standard deviation and graduation rates by approximately 9 percentage points. There is some evidence of diminishing returns, as these effects are driven by districts below the median in spending per pupil. Based on research linking academic outcomes to earnings, we conclude that these spending increases were likely cost-effective.
Most racial and ethnic segregation—and most financial inequities—in American public schools occur between, not within, school districts. Solving these problems often requires interdistrict solutions based on cooperation within regions. This report uses three examples (Boston, MA; Hartford, CT; and Omaha, NE) to explore how interdistrict desegregation plans with innovative funding strategies have been designed, financed, and implemented. The report describes programs’ academic and social outcomes and identifies four lessons for policymakers: Secure a metropolitan-wide agreement; establish a clear vision for educational equity; sustain efforts with equitable resources; and create a strong data and evaluation plan.
Recent research demonstrates that, when more money is spent on education for students from low-income families, achievement and graduation rates improve. So, too, do life outcomes such as employment, wages, and reduced poverty rates. Investments in instruction, especially high-quality teachers, appear to leverage the largest marginal gains in performance. School funding reforms in several states have created the conditions for stronger educational outcomes. These reforms funded schools more equitably and provided access to well-prepared and well-supported teachers; standards, curriculum, and assessments focused on 21st-century learning goals; schools organized productively for student and teacher learning; and supportive early learning environments. This report examines these efforts in four states: Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Jersey, and North Carolina. Their experiences demonstrate that, in the U.S., equity-focused changes can yield results for students but also require steady work.
Research showing that high-quality preschool benefits children’s early learning and later life outcomes has led to increased state engagement in public preschool. However, mixed results from evaluations of two programs—Tennessee’s Voluntary Pre-K program and Head Start—have left many policymakers unsure about how to ensure productive investments. This report presents the most rigorous evidence on the effects of preschool and clarifies how the findings from Tennessee and Head Start relate to the larger body of research showing that high-quality preschool enhances children’s school readiness by supporting substantial early learning gains in comparison to children who do not experience preschool and can have lasting impacts far into children’s later years of school and life. Therefore, the issue is not whether preschool “works,” but how to design and implement programs that ensure public preschool investments consistently deliver on their promise.