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K-12 Education

Andrew McEachin, Thurston Domina, Andrew M. Penner.

How should schools assign students to more rigorous math courses so as best to help their academic outcomes? We identify several hundred California middle schools that used 7th grade test scores to place students into 8th grade Algebra courses, and use a regression discontinuity design to estimate average impacts and heterogeneity across schools. Enrolling in 8th grade algebra boosts students’ enrollment in advanced math in 9th grade by 30 percentage points and 11th grade by 16 percentage points. Math scores in 10th grade rise by 0.05 standard deviations. Women, students of color, and English-language learners benefit disproportionately from placement into early Algebra. Importantly, the benefits of 8th grade algebra are substantially larger in schools that set their eligibility threshold higher in the baseline achievement distribution. This suggests a potential tradeoff between increased access and rates of subsequent math success.

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Paul T. von Hippel.

Year-round school calendars take the usual 175-180 instruction days of the school year and redistribute them, replacing the usual schedule – nine months on, three months off – with a more “balanced” schedule of short instruction periods alternating with shorter breaks across all four seasons of the year. Over the past three decades, the number of schools using year-round calendars has increased ninefold, from 410 in 1985 to 3,700 in 2011-12 (Skinner, 2014). Over 2 million children now attend year-round schools – as many as attend charter schools – yet year-round schools have attracted relatively little attention from researchers and the public.

In this chapter, I review the evidence for the effects of year-round calendars on test scores. Once thought to be positive, these effects now appear to be neutral at best. Although year-round calendars do increase summer learning, they reduce learning at other times of year, so that the total amount learned over a 12-month period is no greater under a year-round calendar than under a nine-month calendar. I also review evidence that year-round calendars make it harder to recruit and retain experienced teachers, make it harder for mothers to work outside the home, and reduce property values. When students' schedules are staggered, year-round calendars do offer a way to reduce school crowding – an alternative to busing or portable classrooms, and a low-cost alternative to new school construction.

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Eric A. Hanushek, Paul E. Peterson, Laura M. Talpey, Ludger Woessmann.

Rising inequality in the United States has raised concerns about potentially widening gaps in educational achievement by socio-economic status (SES). Using assessments from LTT-NAEP, Main-NAEP, TIMSS, and PISA that are psychometrically linked over time, we trace trends in achievement for U.S. student cohorts born between 1954 and 2001. Achievement gaps between the top and bottom quartiles of the SES distribution have been large and remarkably constant for a near half century. These unwavering gaps have not been offset by improved achievement levels, which have risen at age 14 but have remained unchanged at age 17 for the past quarter century.

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Corey A. DeAngelis.

Public charter schools could theoretically experience fewer school climate problems than district-run public schools because of additional competitive pressures, autonomy, and improved matches between schools and students. Using publicly available data from the New York State Education Department, I analyze differences in 13 school climate problems between public charter school and district-run public school sectors. After controlling for observable differences in students and schools between sectors, I find that public charter schools tend to report fewer school climate problems than district-run public schools in New York state in the 2017-18 school year. Specifically, public charter schools report fewer assaults with physical injuries, assaults with serious physical injuries, forcible sex offenses, other sex offenses, weapons possessions resulting from routine security checks, other weapons possessions, and false alarms than district-run public schools; however, public charter schools tend to report more cyberbullying than district-run public schools. The charter school climate advantages tend to be more pronounced in New York City than the rest of the state.

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Mark J. Chin, David M. Quinn, Tasminda K. Dhaliwal, Virginia S. Lovison.

Theory suggests that teachers’ implicit racial attitudes affect their students, but we lack large-scale evidence on US teachers’ implicit biases and their correlates. Using nationwide data from Project Implicit, we find that teachers’ implicit White/Black biases (as measured by the implicit association test) vary by teacher gender and race. Teachers’ adjusted bias levels are lower in counties with larger shares of Black students. In the aggregate, counties in which teachers hold higher levels of implicit and explicit racial bias have larger adjusted White/Black test score inequalities and White/Black suspension disparities.

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Carolyn J. Heinrich, Jennifer Darling-Aduana.

Recent increases in high school graduation rates have been linked anecdotally to online course-taking for credit recovery. Online course-taking that supports high school completion could open opportunities for postsecondary education pursuits. Alternatively, poorer quality online instruction could diminish student learning and discourage persistence toward graduation and further education. Using quasi-experimental methods in an eight-year longitudinal study of high school online course-taking, we find positive associations between online course-taking, credits earned and high school graduation, and for those with limited online course-taking, small increases in college enrollment. However, we find significantly lower four-year college enrollments and lower-quality college enrollments for all online course-takers, leaving open the question of whether online course-taking will lead to longer-term postsecondary education and labor market success.

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Andrew C. Johnston.

Improving schools depends on attracting high-caliber teachers and increasing retention, both made possible by appealing to teacher preferences. Since these preferences cannot be estimated from traditional choice records, I deploy a discrete-choice experiment in a setting where teachers have reason to reveal their preferences. This generates three main findings: (1) I calculate willingness-to-pay for a series of workplace attributes including salary structure, retirement benefits, performance pay, class size, and time-to-tenure; schools can improve the appeal of teaching by shifting compensation into vehicles with greater WTP-to-cost ratios. (2) Highly rated teachers have stronger preferences for schools offering performance pay, which may be used to differentially attract and retain them. (3) Using preferences, I simulate how a school would structure compensation to maximize (i) teacher welfare, (ii) teacher retention, or (iii) student achievement. Under each criterion, the results suggest that schools underpay in salary and performance pay while overpaying in retirement benefits.

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Paul T. von Hippel, Ana P. Cañedo.

Many kindergarten teachers place students in higher and lower “ability groups” to learn math and reading. Ability group placement should depend on student achievement, but critics charge that placement is biased by socioeconomic status (SES), gender, and race/ethnicity. We predict group placement in the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study of the Kindergarten class of 2010-11, using linear and ordinal regression models with classroom fixed effects. The best predictors of group placement are test scores, but girls, high-SES students, and Asian Americans receive higher placements than their test scores alone would predict. One third of students move groups during kindergarten, and some movement is predicted by changes in test scores, but high-SES students move up more than score gains would predict, and Hispanic children move up less. Net of SES and test scores, there is no bias in the placement of African American children. Differences in teacher-reported behaviors explain the higher placement of girls, but do little to explain the higher or lower placement of other groups. Although achievement is the best predictor of ability group placement, there are signs of bias.

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Angela Johnson, Megan Kuhfeld.

The belief that additional time allows children to become more ready for school has affected public policy and individual practices. Prior studies estimated either associations between school entry age and academic growth or causal effects on achievement measured at one or two points. This paper contributes novel causal evidence for the impacts of kindergarten entry age on academic growth in the first three years of school. We embed regression discontinuity into a piecewise multilevel growth model and apply it to rich assessment data from three states. Being a year older leads to higher initial achievement and higher kindergarten growth rates but lower growth rates during 1st and 2nd grades. Effects do not differ by gender or race.

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Dillon Fuchsman, Tim R. Sass, Gema Zamarro.

Teacher turnover has adverse consequences for student achievement and imposes large financial costs for schools. Some have argued that high-stakes testing may lower teachers’ satisfaction with their jobs and could be a major contributor to teacher attrition. In this paper, we exploit changes in the tested grades and subjects in Georgia to study the effects of eliminating high-stakes testing on teacher turnover and the distribution of teachers across grades and schools. To measure the effect of testing pressures on teacher mobility choices we use a "difference-in-differences" approach, comparing changes in mobility over time in grades/subjects that discontinue testing vis-à-vis grades/subjects that are always tested. Our results show that eliminating testing did not have an impact on the likelihood of leaving teaching, changing schools within a district, or moving between districts. We only uncover small negative effects on the likelihood of grade switching. However, we do find relevant positive effects on retention of beginning teachers in the profession. In particular, the average probability of exit for teachers with 0-4 years of experience fell from 14 to 13 percentage points for teachers in grades 1 and 2 and from 14 to 11 percentage points in grades 6 and 7.

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