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K-12 Education

Michael Gilraine, Valentina Duque.

This paper examines the effect of air pollution from power production on students' cognitive outcomes. To do so, we leverage variation in power production over time, wind patterns, and plant closures. We find that each one million megawatt hours of coal-fired power production decreases student performance in schools within ten kilometers by 0.02 and 0.01 standard deviations in math and English, respectively. We find no such relationship for gas-fired plants. Extrapolating our results nationwide indicates that the decline in coal use in the United States from 2007 through 2018 increased student performance by 0.003 standard deviations and reduced the black-white test score gap by 0.002 standard deviations.

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Carycruz Bueno.

The COVID-19 pandemic has put virtual schooling at the forefront of policy concerns, as millions of children worldwide shift to virtual schooling with hopes of “slowing the spread”. Given the emergency shift to online education coupled with the large increase in demand for virtual education over the last decade it is imperative to explore the impacts of virtual education on student outcomes. This paper estimates the causal effect of full-time virtual school attendance on student outcomes with important implications for school choice, online education, and education policy. Despite the increasing demand for K-12 virtual schools over the past decade little is known about the impact of full-time virtual schools on students’ cognitive and behavioral outcomes. The existing evidence on the impact of online education on students’ outcomes is mixed. I use a longitudinal data set composed of individual-level information on all public-school students and teachers throughout Georgia from 2007 to 2016 to investigate how attending virtual schools influences student outcomes. I implement a variety of econometric specifications to account for the issue of potential self-selection into full-time virtual schools. I find that attending a virtual school leads to a reduction of 0.1 to 0.4 standard deviations in English Language Arts, Mathematics, Science, and Social Studies achievement test scores for students in elementary and middle school. I also find that ever attending a virtual school is associated with a 10-percentage point reduction in the probability of ever graduating from high school. This is early evidence that full-time virtual schools as a type of school choice could be harmful to students’ learning and future economic opportunities, as well as a sub-optimal use of taxpayer money.

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Chirantan Chatterjee, Eric A. Hanushek, Shreekanth Mahendiran.

India took a decisive step toward universal basic education by proclaiming a constitutionally-guaranteed Right to Education (RTE) Act in 2009 that called for full access of children aged 6-14 to free schooling. This paper considers the offsetting effects to RTE from induced expansion of private tutoring in the educationally competitive districts of India. We develop a unique database of registrations of new private educational institutions offering tutorial services by local district between 2001-2015. We estimate the causal impact of RTE on private supplemental education by comparing the growth of these private tutorial institutions in districts identified a priori as having very competitive educational markets to those that had less competitive educational markets. We find a strong impact of RTE on the private tutoring market and show that this holds across alternative definitions of highly competitive districts and a variety of robustness checks, sensitivity analyses, and controls. Finally, we provide descriptive evidence that these private tutoring schools do increase the achievement (and competitiveness) of students able to afford them.

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Vladimir Kogan, Stéphane Lavertu, Zachary Peskowitz.

We employ a regression discontinuity design leveraging close school board elections to investigate how the racial and ethnic composition of California school boards affects school district administration and student achievement. We find some evidence that increases in minority representation lead to cumulative achievement gains of approximately 0.1 standard deviations among minority students by the sixth post-election year. These gains do not come at the expense of white students' academic performance, which also appears to improve. Turning to the policy mechanisms that may explain these effects, we find that an increase in minority representation leads to greater capital funding and an increase in the proportion of district principals who are non-white. We find no significant effects of minority representation on school segregation, the reclassification of English Language Learners, or teacher staffing.

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Agustina S. Paglayan.

Because primary education is often conceptualized as a pro-poor redistributive policy, a common argument is that democratization increases its provision. But primary education can also serve the goals of autocrats, including redistribution, promoting loyalty, nation-building, and/or industrialization. To examine the relationship between democratization and education provision empirically, I leverage new datasets covering 109 countries and 200 years. Difference-in-differences and interrupted time series estimates find that, on average, democratization had no or little impact on primary school enrollment rates. When unpacking this average null result, I find that, consistent with median voter theories, democratization can lead to an expansion of primary schooling, but the key condition under which it doeswhen a majority lacked access to primary schooling before democratizationrarely holds. Around the world, state-controlled primary schooling emerged a century before democratization, and in three-fourths of countries that democratized, a majority already had access to primary education before democratization.

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Matthew Kraft, Manuel Monti-Nussbaum.

Narrative accounts of classroom instruction suggest that external interruptions, such as intercom announcements and visits from staff, are a regular occurrence in U.S. public schools. We study the frequency, nature, and duration of external interruptions in the Providence Public School District (PPSD) using original data from a district-wide survey and classroom observations. We estimate that a typical classroom in PPSD is interrupted over 2,000 times per year, and that these interruptions and the disruptions they cause result in the loss of between 10 to 20 days of instructional time. Administrators appear to systematically underestimate the frequency and negative consequences of these interruptions. We propose several organizational approaches schools might adopt to reduce external interruptions to classroom instruction.

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Stephen B. Holt, Rui Wang, Seth Gershenson.

Teaching is often assumed to be a relatively stressful occupation and occupational stress among teachers has been linked to poor mental health, attrition from the profession, and decreased effectiveness in the classroom. Despite widespread concern about teachers’ mental health, however, little empirical evidence exists on long-run trends in teachers’ mental health or the prevalence of mental health problems in teaching relative to other professions. We address this gap in the literature using nationally representative data from the 1979 and 1997 cohorts of the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth (NLSY). In the 1979 cohort, women who become teachers have similar mental health to non-teachers prior to teaching but enjoy better mental health than their non-teaching peers, on average, while working as teachers. However, in the 1997 cohort teachers self-report worse mental health, on average, than the 1979 cohort and fare no better than their non-teaching professional peers while teaching. Overall, teachers seem to enjoy mental health outcomes that are as good or better than their peers in other professions.

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David M. Quinn.

A vast research literature documents racial bias in teachers’ evaluations of students.  Theory suggests bias may be larger on grading scales with vague or overly-general criteria versus scales with clearly-specified criteria, raising the possibility that well-designed grading policies may mitigate bias.  This study offers relevant evidence through a randomized web-based experiment with 1,549 teachers.  On a vague grade-level evaluation scale, teachers rated a student writing sample lower when it was randomly signaled to have a Black author, versus a White author.  However, there was no evidence of racial bias when teachers used a rubric with more clearly-defined evaluation criteria.  Contrary to expectation, I found no evidence that the magnitude of grading bias depends on teachers’ implicit or explicit racial attitudes.               

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Francis A. Pearman, II.

This study examines the relationship between county-level estimates of implicit racial bias and black-white test score gaps in U.S. schools. Data from over 1 million respondents from across the United States who completed an online version of the Race Implicit Association Test (IAT) were combined with data from the Stanford Education Data Archive covering over 300 million test scores from U.S. schoolchildren in grades 3 through 8. Two key findings emerged. First, in both bivariate and multivariate models, counties with higher levels of racial bias had larger black-white test score disparities. The magnitude of these associations were on par with other widely accepted predictors of racial test score gaps, including racial gaps in family income and racial gaps in single parenthood. Second, the observed relationship between collective rates of racial bias and racial test score gaps was explained by the fact that counties with higher rates of racial bias had schools that were characterized by more racial segregation and larger racial gaps in gifted and talented assignment as well as special education placement. This pattern is consistent with a theoretical model in which aggregate rates of racial bias affect educational opportunity through sorting mechanisms that operate both within and beyond schools.

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Marcos A. Rangel, Ying Shi.

We study racial bias and the persistence of first impressions in the context of education. Teachers who begin their careers in classrooms with large black-white score gaps carry negative views into evaluations of future cohorts of black students. Our evidence is based on novel data on blind evaluations and non-blind public school teacher assessments of fourth and fifth graders in North Carolina. Negative first impressions lead teachers to be significantly less likely to over-rate but not more likely to under-rate black students’ math and reading skills relative to their white classmates. Teachers' perceptions are sensitive to the lowest-performing black students in early classrooms, but non-responsive to highest-performing ones. This is consistent with the operation of confirmatory biases. Since teacher expectations can shape grading patterns and sorting into academic tracks as well as students’ own beliefs and behaviors, these findings suggest that novice teacher initial experiences may contribute to the persistence of racial gaps in educational achievement and attainment.

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