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K-12 Education

Carolyn Abott, Vladimir Kogan, Stéphane Lavertu, Zachary Peskowitz.

We use close tax elections to estimate the impact of school district funding increases on operational spending and student outcomes across seven states. Districts with passing levies directed new revenue toward support services and instructor salaries but did not increase teacher staffing levels. These districts eventually realized gains in student achievement and attainment. Our preferred estimates imply that increasing operational spending by $1,000 per pupil increased test scores by approximately 0.15 of a standard deviation and graduation rates by approximately 9 percentage points. There is some evidence of diminishing returns, as these effects are driven by districts below the median in spending per pupil. Based on research linking academic outcomes to earnings, we conclude that these spending increases were likely cost-effective.

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Megan Kuhfeld, James Soland.

A huge portion of what we know about how humans develop, learn, behave, and interact is based on survey data. Researchers use longitudinal growth modeling to understand the development of students on psychological and social-emotional learning constructs across elementary and middle school. In these designs, students are typically administered a consistent set of self-report survey items across multiple school years, and growth is measured either based on sum scores or scale scores produced based on item response theory (IRT) methods. While there is great deal of guidance on scaling and linking IRT-based large-scale educational assessment to facilitate the estimation of examinee growth, little of this expertise is brought to bear in the scaling of psychological and social-emotional constructs.  Through a series of simulation and empirical studies, we produce scores in a single-cohort repeated measure design using sum scores as well as multiple IRT approaches and compare the recovery of growth estimates from longitudinal growth models using each set of scores. Results indicate that using scores from multidimensional IRT approaches that account for latent variable covariances over time in growth models leads to better recovery of growth parameters relative to models using sum scores and other IRT approaches.

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James Soland, Megan Kuhfeld.

Survey respondents use different response styles when they use the categories of the Likert scale differently despite having the same true score on the construct of interest.  For example, respondents may be more likely to use the extremes of the response scale independent of their true score.  Research already shows that differing response styles can create a construct-irrelevant source of bias that distorts fundamental inferences made based on survey data.  While some initial studies examine the effect of response styles on survey scores in longitudinal analyses, the issue of how response styles affect estimates of growth is underexamined.  In this study, we conducted empirical and simulation analyses in which we scored surveys using item response theory (IRT) models that do and do not account for response styles, and then used those different scores in growth models and compared results.  Generally, we found that response styles can affect estimates of growth parameters including the slope, but that the effects vary by psychological construct, response style, and model used.

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Francis A. Pearman, II.

This study examines whether county-level estimates of implicit bias predict black-white test score gaps in county 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. In both bivariate and multivariate models, counties with higher levels of racial bias had larger black-white test score disparities. This relationship was primarily explained by sorting mechanisms: The black-white test score gap was larger in counties with higher levels of implicit bias because these counties’ schools were more racially segregated and were characterized by larger racial gaps in gifted and talented assignment as well as special education placement.

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Min Sun, Alec Kennedy, Susanna Loeb.

School Improvement Grants (SIG) represent one type of governments’ capacity-building investment to spur sustainable changes in America’s persistently under-performing public schools. This study examines both short- and long-run effects of the first two cohorts of SIG schools from two states and two urban districts across the country. Using dynamic event analyses, we observe that SIG showed larger effects in the second and third years of the intervention than the first year on 3-8th grade student test scores—a pattern of gradually increase over the course the intervention. These positive effects are largely sustained three or four years after the funding ended. In high schools, the SIG effects on 4-year graduation rates were steadily increasing throughout the period of six or seven years after the initial start of the intervention. These patterns of SIG effects mostly apply to each of the four locations, but the magnitude of effects varies across locations, suggesting differential implementations. Moreover, SIG effects on students of color or low-socioeconomic students are similar to, and sometimes a bit larger than, the overall SIG effects. We also conduct a variety of sensitivity and robustness checks.  Lastly, we discuss the policy implications of our findings on states’ continuing efforts of transforming public organizations and building their long-term capacity for better performance.

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Matthew P. Steinberg, Haisheng Yang.

Principals shape the academic setting of schools. Yet, there is limited evidence on whether principal professional development improves schooling outcomes. In 2008-09, Pennsylvania’s Inspired Leadership (PIL) induction program required that newly hired principals complete targeted in-service professional development within five years of employment. Using panel data on all Pennsylvania students, teachers and principals, we leverage within-principal variation in the timing of PIL completion within the same school setting to estimate the impact of PIL induction on principal persistence, teacher effectiveness and student achievement. PIL induction increased principal tenure by 18 percent, corresponding to approximately half an additional year as principal of record; however, PIL induction had no impact on teacher effectiveness or student achievement. We discuss the implications of our findings for principal induction efforts.

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James G. Cibulka, Martin E. Orland, Kenneth K. Wong.

The Every Student Succeeds Act of 2015 (ESSA) grants states unprecedented discretion in implementing many of the federal law’s requirements concerning the needs of the nation’s educationally disadvantaged students. This theoretical paper addresses a void in the policy implementation literature on why ESEA reform efforts have not been more effectively sustained. It synthesizes previous research on ESEA by proposing the use of multiple political science frames to guide new empirical research on ESSA’s impacts. These alternative models—ESSA’s Legal Framework, Institutional Actors, and Stakeholder Bargaining—can inform the law’s national impacts on equity for disadvantaged students and the key conditions affecting differences in state responses to the equity challenge ESSA presents.

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Leslie K. Finger, Sarah Reckhow.

Political parties in the U.S. are composed of networks of interest groups, according to the extended party network theory. Scholars have focused on national extended party networks. We use the case of education interest groups to explore how policy environments shape party networks on the state level. Using 145,000 campaign contributions from 2000 to 2017, we show that the alignment of education interest groups has changed over time. In 2000, teachers unions were the dominant group and aligned with Democrats. Meanwhile, Republicans lacked support from any education group. This pattern was relatively consistent across states. Over time, coalitions diverged, with some state networks polarizing, meaning unions increasingly aligned with Democrats and reform groups with Republicans, while others did not experience such polarization. We find that labor law restrictions and private school choice programs were related to these trends, suggesting that state-level policies shape the contours of state party networks.

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Michael Gilraine.

This paper identifies the achievement impact of installing air filters in classrooms for the first time. To do so, I leverage a unique setting arising from the largest gas leak in United States history, whereby the offending gas company installed air filters in every classroom, office and common area for all schools within five miles of the leak (but not beyond). This variation allows me to compare student achievement in schools receiving air filters relative to those that did not using a spatial regression discontinuity design. I find substantial improvements in student achievement: air filter exposure led to a 0.20 standard deviation increase in mathematics and English scores, with test score improvements persisting into the following year. Air testing conducted inside schools during the leak (but before air filters were installed) showed no presence of natural gas pollutants, implying that the effectiveness of air filters came from removing common air pollutants and so these results should extend to other settings. The results indicate that air filter installation is a highly cost-effective policy to raise student achievement and, given that underprivileged students attend schools in highly polluted areas, one that can reduce the pervasive test score gaps that plague public education.

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Linda Darling-Hammond.

Recent research demonstrates that, when more money is spent on education for students from low-income families, achievement and graduation rates improve. So, too, do life outcomes such as employment, wages, and reduced poverty rates. Investments in instruction, especially high-quality teachers, appear to leverage the largest marginal gains in performance. School funding reforms in several states have created the conditions for stronger educational outcomes. These reforms funded schools more equitably and provided access to well-prepared and well-supported teachers; standards, curriculum, and assessments focused on 21st-century learning goals; schools organized productively for student and teacher learning; and supportive early learning environments. This report examines these efforts in four states: Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Jersey, and North Carolina. Their experiences demonstrate that, in the U.S., equity-focused changes can yield results for students but also require steady work.

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