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Inequality

Sarah Komisarow, Emily Pakhtigian.

In this paper we study the effects of three large, nearly-simultaneous coal-fired power plant closures on school absences in Chicago. We find that the closures resulted in a 7 percent reduction in absenteeism in nearby schools relative to those farther away following the closures. For the typical elementary school in our sample, this translates into around 372 fewer absence-days per year in the aggregate, or around 0.71 fewer annual absences per student. We find that reductions in absences were larger in schools where pre-closure exposure to coal-fired power plants was more intense: namely, schools with low levels of air conditioning, schools more frequently in the wind path of the plants, and non-magnet (i.e., neighborhood) schools where students were more likely to live nearby. To explore potential mechanisms responsible for these absence reductions we investigate the effects of the closures on housing values and children’s respiratory health. We do not find statistical evidence of endogenous migration into neighborhoods near the coal-fired power plants following the closures but do find declines in emergency department visits for asthma-related conditions among school-age children.

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David Figlio, Paola Giuliano, Riccardo Marchingiglio, Umut Özek, Paola Sapienza.

We study the effect of exposure to immigrants on the educational outcomes of US-born students, using a unique dataset combining population-level birth and school records from Florida. This research question is complicated by substantial school selection of US-born students, especially among White and comparatively affluent students, in response to the presence of immigrant students in the school. We propose a new identification strategy to partial out the unobserved non-random selection into schools, and find that the presence of immigrant students has a positive effect on the academic achievement of US-born students, especially for students from disadvantaged backgrounds. Moreover, the presence of immigrants does not affect negatively the performance of affluent US-born students, who typically show a higher academic achievement compared to immigrant students. We provide suggestive evidence on potential channels.

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Edward Kim, Joshua Goodman, Martin R. West.

The growing phenomenon of private tutoring has received minimal scholarly attention in the United States. We use 20 years of geocoded data on the universe of U.S. private tutoring centers to estimate the size and growth of this industry and to identify predictors of tutoring center locations. We document four important facts. First, from 1997-2016, the number of private tutoring centers grew steadily and rapidly, more than tripling from about 3,000 to nearly 10,000. Second, the number and growth of private tutoring centers is heavily concentrated in geographic areas with high income and parental education. Nearly half of tutoring centers are in areas in the top quintile of income. Third, even conditional on income and parental education, private tutoring centers tend to locate in areas with many immigrant and Asian-American families, suggesting important differences by nationality and ethnicity in demand for such services. Fourth, we see little evidence that prevalence of private tutoring centers is related to the structure of K-12 school markets, including the prevalence of private schools and charter or magnet school options. The rapid rise in high-income families’ demand for this form of private educational investment mimics phenomena observed in other spheres of education and family life, with potentially important implications for inequality in student outcomes.

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Laura Bellows.

During the past fifteen years, immigration enforcement increased dramatically in the U.S. interior. There is a growing recognition that immigration enforcement in the U.S. interior has spillover effects onto U.S. citizens. I examine the impacts of a type of partnership between Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and local law enforcement, 287(g) programs, on school engagement within North Carolina. In North Carolina, nine counties were approved to establish 287(g) programs, and another fifteen applied but were not approved to participate. I use a triple difference strategy in which I compare educational outcomes for different groups of students in these two sets of counties before and after activation of 287(g) programs. I find that 287(g) programs decrease school engagement by decreasing attendance. This effect appears to be driven by increases in chronic absenteeism (missing 15 or more days per year). In contrast, I observe no effect of 287(g) programs on achievement.

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Briana Ballis, Katelyn Heath.

Black students are about 1.5 times more likely to be receiving special education (SpEd) services relative to white students. While there is concern that this implies some black students are inappropriately placed in SpEd, the impacts of the disproportionate representation of minority students in SpEd remains unclear. Using administrative data from Texas, we find that capping black disproportionality led to small gains in high school completion and college attainment for black students in special and general education. Overall, our results suggest that reductions in SpEd misclassification among black students may serve to reduce gaps in later-life success across race.

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Rajeev Darolia, Andrew Sullivan.

There is no national consensus on how school districts calculate high school achievement disparities between students who experience homelessness and those who do not. Using administrative student-level data from a mid-sized public school district in the Southern United States, we show that commonly used ways of defining which students are considered homeless can yield markedly different estimates of the homelessness-housed student high school graduation gap. The key distinctions among homelessness definitions relate to how to classify homeless students who become housed and how to consider students who transfer out of the district or drop out of school. Eliminating housing insecurity-related achievement disparities necessitates understanding the link between homelessness and educational achievement; how districts quantify homelessness affects measured gaps.

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Michel Grosz.

I study how postsecondary admission policies affect the composition and subsequent academic outcomes of new cohorts. I leverage the staggered replacement of lotteries and waitlists at California's community college nursing programs with admissions that rely on grades, work experience, and other measures. The change in admissions increased the average prior academic performance of incoming cohorts, but did not improve academic outcomes such as completion rates or pass rates on the national licensing exam. I find suggestive evidence that the change in admissions decreased the share of new students who were not White, but by small amounts. The change in admissions also substantially reduced the time students spent waiting between taking prerequisite coursework and entering the nursing programs.

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Josh B. McGee, Jonathan Mills, Jessica Goldstein.

School district consolidation is one of the most widespread education reforms of the last century, but surprisingly little research has directly investigated its effectiveness. To examine the impact of consolidation on student achievement, this study takes advantage of a policy that requires the consolidation of all Arkansas school districts with enrollment of fewer than 350 students for two consecutive school years. Using a regression discontinuity model, we find that consolidation has either null or small positive impacts on student achievement in math and English Language Arts (ELA). We do not find evidence that consolidation in Arkansas results in positive economies of scale, either by reducing overall cost or allowing for a greater share of resources to be spent in the classroom.

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Matthew A. Kraft, Grace Falken.

In this thought experiment, we explore how tutoring could be scaled nationally to address COVID-19 learning loss and become a permanent feature of the U.S. public education system. We outline a blueprint centered on ten core principles and a federal architecture to support adoption, while providing for local ownership over key implementation features. High school students would tutor in elementary schools via an elective class, college students in middle schools via federal work-study, and full time 2- and 4-year college graduates in high schools via AmeriCorps. We envision an incremental, demand-driven expansion process with priority given to high-needs schools. Our blueprint highlights a range of design tradeoffs and implementation challenges as well as estimates of program costs. Our estimates suggest that targeted approaches to scaling school-wide tutoring nationally, such as focusing on K-8 Title I schools, would cost between $5 and $15 billion annually.

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Vladimir Kogan, Stéphane Lavertu, Zachary Peskowitz.

Political scientists have largely overlooked the democratic challenges inherent in the governance of U.S. public education—despite profound implications for educational delivery and, ultimately, social mobility and economic growth. In this study, we consider whether the interests of adult voters who elect school boards in each community are likely to be aligned with the educational needs of local students. Specifically, we compare voters and students in four states on several policy-relevant dimensions. Using official voter turnout records and rich microtargeting data, we document considerable demographic differences between voters who participate in school board elections and the students attending the schools that boards oversee. These gaps are most pronounced in majority nonwhite jurisdictions and school districts with the largest racial achievement gaps. Our novel analysis provides important context for understanding the political pressures facing school boards and their likely role in perpetuating educational and, ultimately, societal inequality.

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