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Inequality

Susha Roy.

In this paper, I study the effect of winning the public school choice lottery on public school enrollment. In particular, I look at how different outside options affect how sensitive students are to receiving their first choice in the public school lottery, focusing on three measures of outside options: ability to afford private schools, geographic convenience of private schools, and zoned-school quality. Using rich administrative data from applications submitted through a centralized enrollment system in Tulsa Public Schools (TPS), I find that overall, students who do not get assigned to their top choice school in a public school choice program are 15 percentage points more likely to leave the public school system entirely than those who do get an offer at their top choice. This effect is driven by higher-income students: these students, who are more likely to be able to afford private schools, are 33 percentage points more likely to leave the public school system if they do not get an offer at the public school they rank first than those who do get a spot. Geographic convenience of private schools and zoned-school quality do not differentially affect students’ enrollment decisions once they receive a school assignment. These effects are important to understand as districts undergo efforts to increase participation in school choice programs, while seeking to maintain district enrollment. They also provide useful insights about how attrition may affect estimates of the impact of choice schools on student outcomes.

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Stephen B. Billings, Hugh Macartney, Geunyong Park, John D. Singleton.

In this paper, we show that the election of a new school board member causes home values in their neighborhood to rise. This increase is identified using narrowly-decided contests and is driven by non-Democratic members, whose neighborhoods appreciate about 4% on average relative to those of losing candidates. We find that student test scores in the neighborhood public schools of non-Democratic winners also relatively increase, but this effect is driven by changing student composition, including via the manipulation of attendance zones, rather than improvements in school quality (as measured by test score value-added). Notably, we detect no differential changes when comparing neighborhood or scholastic outcomes between winning and losing Democratic school board candidates. These results suggest that partisan affiliation is correlated with private motivations for seeking public office.

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Jane Arnold Lincove, Catherine Mata, Kalena E. Cortes.

High school exit exams are meant to standardize the quality of public high schools and to ensure that students graduate with a set of basic skills and knowledge. Evidence suggests that a common perverse effect of exit exams is an increase in dropout for students who have difficulty passing tests, with a larger effect on minority students. To mitigate this, some states offer alternative, non-tested pathways to graduation for students who have failed their exit exams. This study investigates the post-secondary effects of an alternative high school graduation program. Among students who initially fail an exit exam, those who eventually graduate through an alternative project-based pathway have lower college enrollment, but similar employment outcomes to students who graduate by retaking and passing their exit exams. Compared to similar students who fail to complete high school, those students who take the alternative pathway have better post-secondary outcomes in both education and employment.

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Francisca M. Antman, Kalena E. Cortes.

We present the first quantitative analysis of the impact of ending de jure segregation of Mexican-American school children in the United States by examining the effects of the 1947 Mendez v. Westminster court decision on long-run educational attainment for Hispanics and non-Hispanic whites in California. Our identification strategy relies on comparing individuals across California counties that vary in their likelihood of segregating and across birth cohorts that vary in their exposure to the Mendez court ruling based on school start age. Results point to a significant increase in educational attainment for Hispanics who were fully exposed to school desegregation.

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S. Michael Gaddis, Joseph Murphy.

Scholarly debate focuses on whether cultural capital reproduces existing inequalities or provides a path to upward mobility. Most research, however, focuses only on cross-sectional associations and is unclear about how disadvantaged adolescents can increase their amounts of cultural capital. Traditionally, most adolescents’ interactions with adults occur across two axes of socialization: families and schools. Families provide opportunities to increase cultural capital
while schools value and reward cultural capital. Thus, if adolescents do not obtain cultural capital through their families, they may be at a significant disadvantage when navigating the education system. We hypothesize that adolescents may be able to increase cultural capital through valuable social capital access and exposure – their ties to and meeting frequency with other important adults with knowledge of the education system. We investigate this topic using
experimental longitudinal data on mentoring relationships. We find that high levels of social capital access and exposure positively affect cultural capital, but only for adolescents with highly educated parents. Our findings suggest that cultural capital may not be an engine of social mobility if adolescents from low-SES households cannot acquire or increase their cultural capital.

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Andrew C. Barr, Kelli A. Bird, Benjamin L. Castleman, William L. Skimmyhorn.

Non-traditional students disproportionately enroll in institutions with weaker graduation and earnings outcomes. One hypothesis is that these students would have made different choices had they been provided with better information or supports during the decision-making process. We conducted a large-scale, multi-arm field experiment with the U.S. Army to investigate whether personalized information and the offer of advising assistance affect postsecondary choices and attainment among non-traditional adult populations. We provided U.S. Army service members transitioning out of the military with a package of research-based information and prompts, including quality and cost information on a personalized set of matched colleges, messages targeted at addressing veteran-specific concerns or needs, and reminders about key stages in the college and financial aid application process. For a randomly selected subset of the experimental sample, we also provided service members with opportunities to connect with a college advisor. We find no overall impact of the intervention on whether service members enroll in college, on the quality of their college enrollment, or on their persistence in college. We find suggestive evidence of a modest increase in degree completion within the period of observation, with these impacts mainly driven by increased attainment at for-profit institutions. Our results suggest that influencing non-traditional populations’ educational decisions and outcomes will require substantially more intensive programs and significant resources.

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Michel Grosz, Ross T. Milton.

We study a California policy that loosened constraints on some local governments by lowering the share of votes required to pass school capital improvement bond referendums. We show that the policy change yielded larger tax proposals that received less support from voters, yet led to a doubling of approved spending. We show that this effect is concentrated in more racially diverse jurisdictions and that loosening these electoral constraints completely closed the gap in funding between these areas. We develop an agenda-setter model of the interaction between local government officials and voters to illustrate potential mechanisms behind these results.

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Kelli A. Bird, Benjamin L. Castleman, Gabrielle Lohner.

The COVID-19 pandemic led to an abrupt shift from in-person to virtual instruction in Spring 2020. We use two complementary difference-in differences frameworks, one that leverages within-instructor-by-course variation on whether students started their Spring 2020 courses in person or online and another that incorporates student fixed effects. We estimate the impact of this shift on the academic performance of Virginia’s community college students. With both approaches, we find modest negative impacts (three to six percent) on course completion. Our results suggest that faculty experience teaching a given course online does not mitigate the negative effects. In an exploratory analysis, we find minimal long-term impacts of the switch to online instruction.

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Sarah R. Cohodes, Sean P. Corcoran, Jennifer L. Jennings, Carolyn Sattin-Bajaj.

This paper reports the results of a large, school-level randomized controlled trial evaluating a set of three informational interventions for young people choosing high schools in 473 middle schools, serving over 115,000 8th graders. The interventions differed in their level of customization to the student and their mode of delivery (paper or online); all treated schools received identical materials to scaffold the decision-making process. Every intervention reduced likelihood of application to and enrollment in schools with graduation rates below the city median (75 percent). An important channel is their effect on reducing nonoptimal first choice application strategies. Providing a simplified, middle-school specific list of relatively high graduation rate schools had the largest impacts, causing students to enroll in high schools with 1.5-percentage point higher graduation rates. Providing the same information online, however, did not alter students’ choices or enrollment. This appears to be due to low utilization. Online interventions with individual customization, including a recommendation tool and search engine, induced students to enroll in high schools with 1-percentage point higher graduation rates, but with more variance in impact. Together, these results show that successful informational interventions must generate engagement with the material, and this is possible through multiple channels.

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Megan Kuhfeld, James Soland, Karyn Lewis.

The COVID-19 pandemic has been a seismic and on-going disruption to K-12 schooling. Using test scores from 5.4 million U.S. students in grades 3-8, we tracked changes in math and reading achievement across the first two years of the pandemic. Average fall 2021 math test scores in grades 3-8 were .20-27 standard deviations (SDs) lower relative to same-grade peers in fall 2019, while reading test scores decreased by .09-.18 SDs. Achievement gaps between students in low-poverty and high-poverty elementary schools grew by .10-.20 SDs, primarily during the 2020-21 school year. Observed declines are more substantial than during other recent school disruptions, such as those due to natural disasters.

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