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K-12 Education

Christopher Biolsi, Steven G. Craig, Amrita Dhar, Bent Sorensen.

This paper takes a novel time series perspective on K-12 school spending. About half of school spending is financed by state government aid to local districts. Because state aid is generally income conditioned, with low-income districts receiving more aid, state aid acts as a mechanism for risk sharing between school districts. We show that temporal inequality, due to state and local business cycles, is prevalent across the income distribution. We estimate a model of local revenue and state aid, and its allocation across districts, and use the parameters to simulate impulse response functions. We find that state aid provides risk sharing for local shocks, although slow speed of adjustment results in temporal inequality. There is little risk sharing for statewide income shocks, and the risk from such shocks to school spending is more severe in low income districts because of their greater reliance on state aid.

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Ying Shi, Maria Zhu.

Well-documented racial disparities in rates of exclusionary discipline may arise from differences in hard-to-observe student behavior or bias, in which treatment for the same behavior varies by student race or ethnicity. We provide evidence for the presence of bias using statewide administrative data that contain rich details on individual disciplinary infractions. Two complementary empirical strategies identify bias in suspension outcomes. The first uses within-incident variation in disciplinary outcomes across White and under-represented minority students. The second employs individual fixed effects to examine how consequences vary for students across incidents based on the race of the other student involved in the incident. Both approaches find that Black students are suspended for longer than Hispanic or White students, while there is no evidence of Hispanic-White disparities. The similarity of findings across approaches and the ability of individual fixed effect models to account for unobserved characteristics common across disciplinary incidents provide support that remaining racial disparities are likely not driven by behavior.

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Kathleen Lynch, Lily An, Zid Mancenido.

We present results from a meta-analysis of 37 experimental and quasi-experimental studies of summer programs in mathematics for children in grades pre-K-12, examining what resources and characteristics relate to stronger student achievement, attainment, and social-emotional and behavioral outcomes. Compared to control group children, children who participated in summer programs that included mathematics lessons and activities enjoyed significant improvements in mathematics learning as well as social-behavioral outcomes. We find an average weighted impact estimate of +0.09 standard deviations on mathematics achievement outcomes. In a parallel meta-analysis, we found similar positive impacts of summer programs on socialemotional and behavioral outcomes, Programs conducted in both high- and lower-poverty settings saw similar positive impacts. The results highlight the potential for summer programs to strengthen children’s mathematical ability and improve learning outcomes in both mixed-poverty and high-poverty settings.

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Kari Dalane, Dave E. Marcotte.

The segregation of students by socioeconomic status has been on the rise in American public education between schools during the past several decades. Recent work has demonstrated that segregation is also increasing within schools at the classroom level. In this paper, we contribute to our understanding of the determinants of this increase in socioeconomic segregation within schools. We assess whether growth in the presence and number of nearby charter schools have affected the segregation of socioeconomically disadvantaged students by classroom in traditional public schools (TPS). Using data from North Carolina, we estimate a series of models exploit variation in the number and location of charter schools over time between 2007 and 2014 to estimate the impact of charter school penetration and proximity on levels of within school segregation in TPS classrooms serving grades 3-8. We find that socioeconomic segregation in math and English language arts increase in grades 3-6 when additional charter schools open within large urban districts. We find the largest impacts on schools that are closest to the new charter schools. We estimate that the impact of charter schools can account for almost half of the overall growth in socioeconomic segregation we see over the course of the panel within grades 3-6 in large urban districts.

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Emily Rauscher, Ailish Burns.

Mixed evidence on the relationship between school closure and COVID-19 prevalence could reflect focus on large-scale levels of geography, limited ability to address endogeneity, and demographic variation. Using county-level CDC COVID-19 data through June 15, 2020, two matching strategies address potential heterogeneity: nearest geographic neighbor and propensity scores. Within nearest neighboring pairs in different states with different school closure timing, each additional day from a county’s first case until state-ordered school closure is related to 1.5%-2.4% higher cumulative COVID-19 deaths per capita (1,227-1,972 deaths for a county with median population and deaths/capita). Results are consistent using propensity score matching, COVID-19 data from two alternative sources, and additional sensitivity analyses. School closure is more strongly related to COVID-19 deaths in counties with a high concentration of Black or poor residents, suggesting schools play an unequal role in transmission and earlier school closure is related to fewer lives lost in disadvantaged counties.

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Ying Shi, John D. Singleton.

We examine the causal influence of educators elected to the school board on local education production. The key empirical challenge is that school board composition is endogenously determined through the electoral process. To overcome this, we develop a novel research design that leverages California's randomized assignment of the order that candidate names appear on election ballots. We find that an additional educator elected to the school board reduces charter schooling and increases teacher salaries in the school district relative to other board members. We interpret these findings as consistent with educator board members shifting bargaining in favor of teachers' unions.

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Margot Jackson, Daniel Schneider.

Families and governments are the primary sources of investment in children, proving access to basic resources and other developmental opportunities.  Recent research identifies significant class gaps in parental investments that contribute to high levels of inequality by family income and education and, potentially, to inequality in children’s development.  State-level public investments in children and families have the potential to reduce class inequality in children’s developmental environments by affecting parents’ behavior.  Using newly assembled administrative data from 1998-2014, linked to household-level data from the Consumer Expenditure Survey, we examine how public sector investment in income support, health and education is associated with the private expenditures of low and high-SES parents on developmental items for children. Are class gaps in parental investments in children narrower in contexts of higher public investment for children and families?  We find that more generous public spending for children and families is associated with significantly narrower class gaps in private parental investments.  Moreover, we find that equalization is driven by bottom up increases in low-SES household spending for the progressive investments of income support and health, and by top down decreases in high-SES household spending for the universal investment of public education.

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Charles T. Clotfelter, Steven W. Hemelt, Helen F. Ladd, Mavzuna Turaeva.

The decades-long resistance to federally imposed school desegregation entered a new phase at the turn of the new century, when federal courts stopped pushing racial balance as a remedy for past segregation, adopting in its place a color-blind approach in judging local school districts’ assignment plans. Using data that span 1998 to 2016 from North Carolina, one of the first states to come under this color-blind dictum, we examine the ways in which households and policymakers took actions that had the effect of reducing the amount of interracial contact in K-12 schools within counties. We divide these reductions in interracial contact into portions due to the private school and charter school sectors, the existence of multiple school districts, and racial disparities between schools within districts and sectors. For most counties, the last of these proves to be the biggest, though in some counties private schools, charter schools, or multiple districts played a deciding role. In addition, we decompose segregation in the state’s 13 metropolitan areas, finding that more than half can be attributed to racial disparities inside school districts. We also measure segregation by economic status, finding that it, like racial segregation, increased in the largest urban counties, but elsewhere changed little over the period.

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Andrew Camp, Gema Zamarro.

A growing body of research and popular reporting shows racial differences in school modality choices during the COVID-19 crisis, with white students more likely to attend school in person.  This in-person learning gap raises serious equity concerns. We use unique panel survey data to explore possible explanations. We find that a combination of factors may explain these differences. School districts’ offerings, political partisanship, and local COVID-19 outbreaks are all meaningfully associated with and plausibly explain the in-person learning racial gap. As schools start offering more in-person learning, significant efforts may be necessary to ensure that families and students attend those in-person learning opportunities.

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Jeffrey T. Denning, Richard Murphy, Felix Weinhardt.

This paper considers an unavoidable feature of the school environment, class rank. What are the long-run effects of a student’s ordinal rank in elementary school? Using administrative data on all public-school students in Texas, we show that students with a higher third-grade academic rank, conditional on achievement and classroom fixed effects, have higher subsequent test scores, are more likely to take AP classes, graduate from high school, enroll in and graduate from college, and ultimately have higher earnings 19 years later. We also discuss the necessary assumptions for the identification of rank effects and propose new solutions to identification challenges. The paper concludes by exploring the tradeoff between higher quality schools and higher rank in the presence of these rank-based peer effects.

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