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K-12 Education

Matthew A. 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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Catherine Armstrong Asher, Ethan Scherer, James S. Kim.

Parental text messaging interventions are growing in popularity to encourage at-home reading, school-attendance, and other educational behaviors. These interventions, which often combine multiple components, frequently demonstrate varying amounts of effectiveness, and researchers often cannot determine how individual components work alone or in combination with one another. Using a 2x2x3 factorial experiment, we investigate the effects of individual and interacted components from three behavioral levers to support summer reading: providing updated, personalized information; emphasizing different reading views; and goal setting. We find that the personalized information condition scored on average 0.03 SD higher on fall reading assessments. Texting effects on test scores were enhanced by messages that emphasized reading being useful for both entertainment and building skills compared to skill building alone or entertainment alone. These results continue to build our understanding that while text message can be an effective tool for parent engagement, the specific content of the message can lead to meaningful differences in the magnitude of the effects.

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Lucy C. Sorensen, Montserrat Avila Acosta, John Engberg, Shawn D. Bushway.

U.S. public school students increasingly attend schools with sworn law enforcement officers present. Yet, little is known about how these school resource officers (SROs) affect school environments or student outcomes. Our study uses a fuzzy regression discontinuity (RD) design with national school-level data from 2014 to 2018 to estimate the impacts of SRO placement. We construct this discontinuity based on the application scores of nearby police agencies for federal school-based policing grants. We find that SROs do effectively reduce some forms of violence in schools, but do not prevent school shootings or gun-related incidents. We also find that SROs intensify the use of suspensions, expulsions, police referrals, and arrests of students. These effects are consistently over two times larger for Black students than White students. Finally, we observe that SROs increase chronic absenteeism, particularly for students with disabilities.

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NaYoung Hwang, Brian Kisida.

Although the majority of elementary school teachers are in self-contained classrooms and teach all major subjects, a growing number of teachers specialize in teaching fewer subjects to higher numbers of students. We use administrative data from Indiana to estimate the effect of teacher specialization on teacher and school effectiveness in elementary schools. We find that teacher specialization leads to lower teaching effectiveness in math and reading, and the negative effects are larger when teaching students who are more likely to experience difficulties in school. Moreover, we find no evidence that increasing the proportion of teacher specialists at the school level generates improvements in indicators of school quality.

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Matthew Shirrell, Travis J. Bristol, Tolani A. Britton.

Although Black and Latinx students disproportionately face exclusionary school discipline, prior research finds that the likelihood of suspension for Black students decreases when they are taught by greater proportions of Black teachers. Little prior work, however, has examined whether these effects generalize to large, diverse, urban school districts or to Asian American or Latinx students and teachers. Using student fixed effects models and 10 years of data from New York City, we find that assignment to greater proportions of ethnoracially matched teachers decreases the likelihood of suspension for Black, Latinx, and Asian American students. The magnitudes of these effects are small but suggest that diversifying the teacher workforce could lead to significant decreases in exclusionary discipline in urban districts.

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Alex Eble, Maya Escueta.

Can families in low-income contexts “pull themselves up by their bootstraps?” In rural Gambia, caregivers with high aspirations for their children, measured before the child starts school, invest substantially more in their children’s education. Despite this, essentially no children are literate or numerate three years later. In contrast, a bundled supply-side intervention administered in these same areas generated large literacy and numeracy gains. Crucially, conditional on receipt of this intervention, high-aspirations children are 25 percent more likely to attain literacy/numeracy than low-aspirations children. We also show how the test score SD metric can mislead when counterfactual learning levels are low.

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Olivia L. Chi.

State and local education agencies across the country are prioritizing the goal of diversifying the teacher workforce. To further understand the challenges of diversifying the teacher pipeline, I investigate race and gender dynamics between teachers and school-based administrators, who are key decision-makers in hiring, evaluating, and retaining teachers. I use longitudinal data from a large school district in the southeastern United States to examine the effects of race-congruence and gender-congruence between teachers and observers/administrators on teachers’ observation scores. Using models with two-way fixed effects, I find that teachers, on average, experience small positive increases in their scores from sharing race or gender with their observers, raising fairness concerns for teachers whose race or gender identities are not reflected by any of their raters.

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Umut Özek.

High school graduation rates in the United States are at an all-time high, yet many of these graduates are deemed not ready for postsecondary coursework when they enter college. This study examines the short-, medium-, and long-term effects of remedial courses in middle school using a regression discontinuity design. While the short-term test score benefits of taking a remedial course in English language arts in middle school fade quickly, I find significant positive effects on the likelihood of taking college credit-bearing courses in high school, college enrollment, enrolling in more selective colleges, persistence in college, and degree attainment.

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Sarah R. Cohodes, James J. Feigenbaum.

In the United States, people with more education vote more. But, we know little about why education increases political participation or whether higher-quality education increases civic participation. We study applicants to Boston charter schools, using school lotteries to estimate charter attendance impacts for academic and voting outcomes. First, we confirm large academic gains for students in the sample of charter schools and cohorts investigated here. Second, we find that charter attendance boosts voter participation. Voting in the first presidential election after a student turns 18 increased substantially, by six percentage points from a base of 35 percent. The voting effect is driven entirely by girls and there is no increase in voter registration. Rich data and the differential effects by gender enable exploration of multiple potential channels for the voting impact. We find evidence consistent with two mechanisms: charter schools increase voting by increasing students’ noncognitive skills and by politicizing families who participate in charter school education.

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Stacey L. Brockman.

This paper presents results from a randomized trial of a nudge intervention designed to encourage and enhance virtual student support. During the 2019-20 school year, randomly selected mentors in a school-based mentoring program received monthly reminders with tips for communicating with youth via text, email, and phone. Unexpectedly, the results showed that although the informational reminders did not impact the frequency of mentors’ outreach, they reduced the rate at which students reached out and responded to their mentors. Moreover, and possibly as a consequence, mentors who received the intervention felt less connected to students and less satisfied with their mentoring relationships, and treated students gained less from the mentoring program as a whole in terms of their personal and attitudinal growth. This study’s findings add an important nuance to the evidence on how behavioral interventions in educational contexts operate. Although past studies find that reminder nudges can support individuals’ engagement in discrete tasks, this evidence suggests that prescribing relational practices may be less effective. Thus, mentor supports must be carefully designed in order to yield the intended benefits for students.

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