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Despite documented benefits to college completion, more than a third of students who initially enroll in college do not ultimately earn a credential. Completing college requires students to navigate both institutional administrative tasks (e.g., registering for classes) and academic tasks within courses (e.g., completing homework). In postsecondary education, several promising interventions have shown that text-based outreach and communication can be a low-cost, easy to implement, and effective strategy for supporting administrative task navigation. In this paper, we report on two randomized controlled trials testing the effect of a text-based chatbot with artificial intelligence (AI) capability on students' academic task navigation in introductory courses (political science and economics). We find the academic chatbot significantly shifted students’ final grades, increasing the likelihood students received a course grade of B or higher by 5-6 percentage points and reduced the likelihood students dropped the course.
In response to widening achievement gaps and increased demand for post-secondary education, local and federal governments across the US have enacted policies that have boosted high school graduation rates without an equivalent rise in student achievement, suggesting a decline in academic standards. To the extent that academic standards can shape effort decisions, these trends can have important implications for human capital accumulation. This paper provides both theoretical and empirical evidence of the causal effect of academic standards on student effort and achievement. We develop a theoretical model of endogenous student effort that depends on grading policies, finding that designs that do not account for either the spread of student ability or the magnitude of leniency can increase achievement gaps. Empirically, under a research design that leverages variation from a statewide grading policy and school entry rules, we find that an increase in leniency mechanically increased student GPA without increasing student achievement. At the same time, this policy induced students to increase their school absences. We uncover stark heterogeneity of effects across student ability, with the gains in GPA driven entirely by high ability students and the reductions in attendance driven entirely by low ability students. These differences in responses compound across high school and ultimately widen long-term achievement gaps as measured by ACT scores.
Students’ college choices can affect their chances of earning a degree, but many lack the support to navigate the opaque college application and admissions process. This paper evaluates whether guaranteeing four-year college admissions based on transparent academic standards affected community college students’ enrollment choices and graduation rates. Guaranteed admissions increased high-GPA graduates’ transfer rates to highly-selective colleges by 30 percent. Increased transfers to highly-selective colleges also accompanied higher graduation rates and lower student debt. Gains were largest for students with historically lower transfer rates. Transparent admissions standards can increase access to selective colleges at low to no cost.
Does student-teacher match quality exist? Prior work has documented large disparities in teachers' impacts across student types but has not distinguished between sorting and causal effects as the drivers of these disparities. I propose a disparate value-added model and derive a novel measure of teacher quality---revealed comparative advantage---that captures the degree to which teachers affect student outcome gaps. Quasi-experimental changes in teaching staff show that the comparative advantage measure accurately predicts teachers’ disparate impacts: a teacher with a 1 standard deviation in revealed comparative advantage for black students increases black students' test scores by 1 standard deviation and has no effect on non-black students' test scores. Teacher removal and teacher-to-classroom re-allocation simulations show substantial efficiency and equity gains of considering teachers’ comparative advantage.
Prior research has clearly established the substantial expected payoffs to investments in early childhood education. However, the ability to deliver early childhood programs differs across communities with access to high quality programing especially hard to establish in rural communities. We study one program, Early Steps to School Success, to understand whether the provision of home visiting and book exchange programs in rural Kentucky can influence kindergarten readiness. Linking program data with the state longitudinal data system in Kentucky we create multiple comparison groups by matching children on known program qualification indicators to estimate whether Early Steps program participation was related to school readiness. Our estimates suggest that program participation resulted in small improvements to children’s kindergarten readiness, as measured by the Brigance kindergarten readiness assessment overall score and sub-scores in language, cognitive, and physical development. Results are not sensitive to our choice of comparison group, though they appear driven by the experiences of children who participate from birth through age five or from ages three-to-five only. Our findings suggest that the Early Steps home visiting intervention may be a worthwhile intervention for improving kindergarten preparedness for children living in rural contexts.
‘QuantCrit’ (Quantitative Critical Race Theory) is a rapidly developing approach that seeks to challenge and improve the use of statistical data in social research by applying the insights of Critical Race Theory. As originally formulated, QuantCrit rests on five principles; 1) the centrality of racism; 2) numbers are not neutral; 3) categories are not natural; 4) voice and insight (data cannot ‘speak for itself); and 5) a social justice/equity orientation (Gillborn et al, 2018). The approach has quickly developed an international and interdisciplinary character, including applications in medicine (Gerido, 2020) and literature (Hammond, 2019). Simultaneously, there has been ferocious criticism from detractors outraged by the suggestion that numbers are anything other than objective and scientific (Airaksinen, 2018). In this context it is vital that the approach establishes some common understandings about good practice; in order to sustain rigor, make QuantCrit accessible to academics, practioners, and policymakers alike, and resist widespread attempts to over-simplify and pillory. This paper is intended to advance an iterative process of expanding and clarifying how to ‘QuantCrit’.
We examine the impact of local labor market shocks and state unemployment insurance (UI) policies on student discipline in U.S. public schools. Analyzing school-level discipline data and firm-level layoffs in 23 states, we find that layoffs have little effect on discipline rates overall. However, effects differ across the UI benefit distribution. At the lowest benefit level ($265/week), a mass layoff increases out-of-school suspensions by 4.5%, with effects dissipating as UI benefits increase. Effects are consistently largest for Black students - especially in predominantly White schools - resulting in increased racial disproportionality in school discipline following layoffs in low-UI states.
Complexity and uncertainty in the college application process contribute to longstanding racial and socioeconomic disparities in enrollment. We leverage a large-scale experiment that combines an early guarantee of college admission with a proactive nudge, fee waiver, and structural application simplification to test the impacts of emerging “direct admissions” policies on students’ college-going behaviors. Students in the intervention were 2.7 percentage points (or 12%) more likely to submit a college application, with larger impacts for racially minoritized, first-generation, and low-income students. Students were most responsive to automatic offers from larger, higher quality institutions on the application margin, but were not more likely to subsequently enroll. In the face of growing adoption, we show this low-cost, low-touch intervention can move the needle on important college-going behaviors but is insufficient alone to increase enrollment given other barriers to access, including the ability to pay for college.