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Inequality

Walter Herring, Daphna Bassok, Anita McGinty, Luke C. Miller, James H. Wyckoff.

Third grade is oftentimes the first year standardized literacy assessments are mandated. In turn many policies aimed at improving literacy have focused on third-grade test scores as a key indicator. Yet literacy struggles begin well before third grade, as do racial and socioeconomic disparities in children’s literacy skills. Kindergarten readiness assessments provide a unique opportunity to better understand the emergence of literacy disparities. We use unique kindergarten literacy data from nearly every school district in Virginia to document the relationship between children’s early literacy skills and their later reading proficiency. Comparing children with similar literacy skills at kindergarten entry, we find significant racial and socioeconomic differences in the likelihood a child is proficient on their third-grade reading assessment.

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Kaitlin Anderson, Bashir Sadat, Raquel Sosa.

Advanced course-taking in high school sends an important signal to college admissions officers, helps reduce the cost and time to complete a post-secondary degree, and increases educational attainment and future earnings. However, Black and Hispanic students in the U.S. are underrepresented in Advanced Placement coursework and dual enrollment (i.e. early college). In this paper, we systematically examine the social, demographic, economic, and policy factors that are predictive of racial gaps in AP enrollment and access to DE across the U.S. We find that many of the same factors that predict higher AP access overall also predict higher racial/ethnic gaps in AP, suggesting that policies aimed at increasing AP access need to specifically attend to the inequitable access, rather than simply focusing on increasing access overall. We also find evidence that that might indicate opportunity hoarding by White families contributes to AP gaps – but not DE gaps – suggesting that DE acts as a more equitable avenue for access to college coursework. Our most novel contribution to the literature is our analysis of policies aimed at reducing teacher shortages in high needs areas, in which we find no evidence that the disparities in access to advanced coursework were reduced following implementation of these policies.

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Ilana Umansky, Manuel Vazquez Cano, Lorna Porter.

Federal law defines eligibility for English learner (EL) classification differently for Indigenous students compared to non-Indigenous students. Indigenous students, unlike non-Indigenous students, are not required to have a non-English home or primary language. A critical question, therefore, is how EL classification impacts Indigenous students’ educational outcomes. This study explores this question for Alaska Native students, drawing on data from five Alaska school districts. Using a regression discontinuity design, we find evidence that among students who score near the EL classification threshold in kindergarten, EL classification has a large negative impact on Alaska Native students’ academic outcomes, especially in the 3rd and 4th grades. Negative impacts are not found for non-Alaska Native students in the same districts.

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S. Michael Gaddis, Joseph Murphy.

Cultural capital is influential in determining who continues on to and succeeds in higher education. However, scholars debate whether cultural capital serves to reproduce existing inequalities or provide a path to upward mobility. Most quantitative studies focus on point-in-time correlations between cultural capital measures and educational achievement or attainment. Thus, this work is unclear on how or even if disadvantaged adolescents can significantly increase their stores of cultural capital. One potential way of providing adolescents with an opportunity to gain cultural capital is through ties to adults with high educational attainment. We investigate this topic using unique quasi-experimental longitudinal data on mentoring relationships between adolescents and adults in the Big Brothers/Big Sisters of America program. We find that only mentors with a college degree or greater have positive effects on cultural capital for adolescents. Furthermore, most of the effects of social capital on cultural capital hold only for adolescents with a parent with some college or greater. We question whether cultural capital can truly be an engine of social mobility if adolescents from low-SES households cannot obtain or increase their cultural capital.

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Angela Johnson, Elizabeth Barker.

Under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, schools are required to provide a free and appropriate public education to students with disabilities and show that the students are making academic progress. This study compares within- and across-years academic growth from kindergarten to 4th grade for students who were ever in special education (ever-SPED) to students who were never in special education (never-SPED). We follow one cohort of about 4,200 students for five years and assess the students up to three times per year. Although ever-SPED students started kindergarten with lower math and reading test scores and grew less in both subjects than never-SPED students during the kindergarten school year, ever-SPED students grew more than never-SPED students during the 1st and 2nd grade school years in math and 1st, 3rd, and 4th grade school years in reading. However, ever-SPED students lost more learning during every summer than never-SPED students. This led the test score disparities between the two to grow from under 0.5 standard deviations in kindergarten to 1.0 standard deviation in 4th grade. These findings suggest that summer learning opportunities are crucial for improving educational outcomes for students with disabilities.

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Rachel M. Perera.

Using newly available data on all civil rights complaints submitted to the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights related to racial discrimination in discipline between 1999 and 2018, I provide the first systematic evidence on how modern federal civil rights enforcement is used to address racial discrimination in discipline. I find that less than 50 percent of complaints received each year result in a federal investigation. I also find that 70 to 80 percent of investigations are closed due to insufficient evidence of a civil rights violation. Results also suggest that districts with higher shares of minoritized students, higher levels of segregation, and districts with larger racial educational gaps are more likely to receive a civil rights complaint after controlling for other district factors.

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Darryl V. Hill, Rodney P. Hughes, Matthew A. Lenard, David D. Liebowitz, Lindsay C. Page.

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 elementary and middle-school 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 restrict our identification of peer effects to those students whom the district does not select to switch schools. 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); though these gains may reduce achievement for students from higher-income backgrounds.

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Thurston Domina, Deven Carlson, James S. Carter III, Matthew A. Lenard, Andrew McEachin, Rachel Perera.

Many public school diversity efforts rely on reassigning students from one school to another. While opponents of such efforts articulate concerns about the consequences of reassignments for students’ educational experiences, little evidence exists regarding these effects, particularly in contemporary policy contexts. Using an event study design, we leverage data from an innovative socioeconomic school desegregation plan to estimate the effects of reassignment on reassigned students’ achievement, attendance, and exposure to exclusionary discipline. Between 2000 and 2010, North Carolina’s Wake County Public School System (WCPSS) reassigned approximately 25 percent of students with the goal of creating socioeconomically diverse schools. Although WCPSS’s controlled school choice policy provided opportunities for reassigned students to opt out of their newly reassigned schools, our analysis indicates that reassigned students typically attended their newly reassigned schools. We find that reassignment modestly boosts reassigned students’ math achievement, reduces reassigned students’ rate of suspension, and has no offsetting negative consequences on other outcomes. Exploratory analyses suggest that the effects of reassignment do not meaningfully vary by student characteristics or school choice decisions. The results suggest that carefully designed school assignment policies can improve school diversity without imposing academic or disciplinary costs on reassigned students.

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Scott J. Peters, James S. Carter III.

A wide research base has documented the unequal access to and enrollment in K-12 gifted and talented services and other forms of advanced learning opportunities. This study extends that knowledge base by integrating multiple population-level datasets to better understand correlates of access to and enrollment in gifted and talented services, seventh-grade Algebra 1, and eighth-grade Geometry. Results show that states vary widely with some serving 20% of their students as gifted while others serve 0%. Similarly, within-district income segregation, income-related achievement gaps, and the percent of parents with a college degree are the dominant predictors of a school offering these opportunities and the size of the school population served.

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Meira Levinson, Alan C. Geller, Joseph G. Allen.

At least 25 million K-12 students in the U.S.—disproportionately children of color from low-income families—have been physically out of school for a full year due to the COVID-19 pandemic. These children are at risk of significant academic, social, mental, and physical harm now and in the long-term. We must determine how to help all students gain access to safe, in-person schooling. In this interdisciplinary Viewpoint, we review the literature about the association between school reopening and COVID-19 transmission rates, and about the political, social, and environmental conditions that shape families’ and teachers’ choices to return to in-person schooling. Even though schools can safely be opened with appropriate mitigation measures, we find four reasons for schooling hesitancy: high community transmission rates; the Trump administration’s politicization of school re-openings in Summer 2020; long-term histories of mutual mistrust and racialized disinvestment in urban districts; and rational calculation about vulnerability due to the social determinants of health that have led Black and Latinx parents disproportionately to keep their children at home and White families disproportionately to send their children to school. Given the deep interconnections between the social determinants of health and of learning, and between schooling hesitancy and community vulnerability, stark inequities in in-person schooling access and take-up are likely to persist. In addition to ramping up safe and speedy school reopening now, we must make a long-term commitment to supporting schools as both sites of and contributors to public health, especially in historically marginalized communities.

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