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Longitudinal models of individual growth typically emphasize between-person predictors of change but ignore how growth may vary within persons because each person contributes only one point at each time to the model. In contrast, modeling growth with multi-item assessments allows evaluation of how relative item performance may shift over time. While traditionally viewed as a nuisance under the label of “item parameter drift” (IPD) in the Item Response Theory literature, we argue that IPD may be of substantive interest if it reflects how learning manifests on different items at different rates. In this study, we present a novel application of the Explanatory Item Response Model (EIRM) to assess IPD in a causal inference context. Simulation results show that when IPD is not accounted for, both parameter estimates and their standard errors can be affected. We illustrate with an empirical application to the persistence of transfer effects from a content literacy intervention on vocabulary knowledge, revealing how researchers can leverage IPD to achieve a more fine-grained understanding of how vocabulary learning develops over time.
We study the progressivity of state funding of school districts under Tennessee’s weighted student funding formula. We propose a simple definition of progressivity based on the difference in exposure to district per-pupil funding between poor and non-poor students. The realized progressivity of district funding in Tennessee is much smaller—only about 17 percent as large—as the formula weights imply directly. The attenuation is driven by the mixing of poor and non-poor students within districts. We further show the components of the Tennessee formula not explicitly tied to student poverty are only modestly progressive. Notably, special education funding is essentially progressivity-neutral for poor students. If we adjust the formula so all factors except individual student poverty receive zero weight and distribute the excess to poor students, we can increase the progressivity of district funding by 124 percent. We interpret this as the opportunity cost of the non-poverty-based funding components, measured in terms of progressivity.
Criminal activity is seasonal, peaking in the summer and declining through the winter. We provide the first evidence that arrests of children and reported crimes involving children follow a different pattern: peaking during the school year and declining in the summer. We use a regression discontinuity design surrounding the exact start and end dates of the school year to show that this pattern is caused by school: children aged 10-17 are roughly 50% more likely to be involved in a reported crime during the beginning of the school year relative to the weeks before school begins. This sharp increase is driven by student-on-student crimes occurring in school and during school hours. We use the timing of these patterns and a seasonal adjustment to argue that school increases reported crime rates (and arrests) involving 10-17-year-old offenders by 47% (41%) annually relative to a counterfactual where crime rates follow typical seasonal patterns. School exacerbates preexisting sex-based and race-based inequality in reported crime and arrest rates, increasing both the Black-white and male-female gap in reported juvenile crime and arrest rates by more than 40%.
Longitudinal studies can produce biased estimates of learning if children miss tests. In an application to summer learning, we illustrate how missing test scores can create an illusion of large summer learning gaps when true gaps are close to zero. We demonstrate two methods that reduce bias by exploiting the correlations between missing and observed scores on tests taken by the same child at different times. One method, multiple imputation, uses those correlations to fill in missing scores with plausible imputed scores. The other method models the correlations implicitly, using child-level random effects. Widespread adoption of these methods would improve the validity of summer learning studies and other longitudinal research in education.
In this paper, we examine the fundamental and complex role that time plays in the learning process. We begin by developing a conceptual framework to elucidate the multiple obstacles schools face in converting allocated time into learning time. We then synthesize the causal research and document a clear positive effect of time on student achievement of small to medium magnitude, but also with likely diminishing marginal returns. Further descriptive analyses reveal how large differences in the length of the school day and year across public schools are an underappreciated dimension of educational inequality in the United States. Finally, our case study of time loss in one urban district demonstrates the potential to substantially increase learning time within existing constraints.
The Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) began a new wave of school accountability under which states draw on multiple measures to assess school quality. States have options in terms of how to weight components in their school quality indices and how many years of data to use to determine school ratings. In this study, we simulate school ratings using eight years of administrative data in North Carolina to demonstrate how state decisions about school ratings and identification influence school ratings and the list of schools identified for improvement. We then evaluate these decisions against a framework that considers the validity, stability, and equity of the ratings, underscoring the inherent tradeoffs that come with each. We show that while a system that weights proficiency more heavily than growth produces more stable school ratings, identifying schools based on multiple years of performance data instead of one more than offsets the loss of stability in shifting to a growth measure. We conclude with recommendations for state accountability systems under ESSA and for federal policymaking moving forward.
During the pandemic, a number of states instituted hold-harmless funding policies to protect school district financially from declining enrollments (Center for Public Education, 2021). In addition, some school choice policies have protected traditional public schools financially from declining enrollments. Together, these policies raise the question of whether competitive effects can exist in a policy environment of reduced financial pressure. Theoretically, despite the lack of financial pressure, schools could feel competitive pressure in other ways including a loss of reputation as students move to schools of choice (Epple, Romono, & Urquiola, 2017; Friedman, 1962; MacLeod & Urquiola, 2009; Urquiola, 2016). To provide insights on whether schools can improve without the threat of financial loss, we examine the Seoul school choice program which introduced autonomous private high schools (APHSs) in the context in which there is equalized funding across schools. More specifically, we examine whether competition induced by APHSs affects the achievement of students attending traditional public and private schools. The effect of APHSs is identified by exploiting plausible exogenous APHSs’ entry through the random assignment of students. We find a small and positive effect of APHS penetration on the Korean and English achievement of private school students while finding no effects for traditional public schools, which have limited ability to respond.
The persistently high employment share of the informal sector makes entrepreneurship a necessity for youth in many developing countries. We exploit exogenous variation in the implementation of Rwanda’s entrepreneurship education reform in secondary schools to evaluate its effect on student economic outcomes up to three years after graduation. Using a randomized controlled trial, we evaluated a three-year intensive training for entrepreneurship teachers, finding pedagogical changes as intended and increased entrepreneurial activity among students. In this paper, we tracked students following graduation and found that increased entrepreneurship persisted one year later, in 2019. Students from treated schools were six percentage points more likely to be entrepreneurs, an increase of 19 percent over the control mean. However, gains in entrepreneurship faded after three years, in 2021. Employment was six percentage points lower in the treatment group. By some measures, income and profits were lower in the treatment group, with no robust differences in these outcomes overall. Lower incomes and profits were concentrated among marginal students induced into entrepreneurship by the program. Youth entrepreneurship programs may therefore steer some participants away from their comparative advantage. Nonetheless, the program increased university enrollment, suggesting the potential for higher long run returns.
School districts across the U.S. have adopted funding policies designed to distribute resources more equitably across schools. However, schools are also increasing external fundraising efforts to supplement district budget allocations. We document the interaction between funding policies and fundraising efforts in Chicago Public Schools (CPS). We find that adoption of a weighted-student funding policy successfully reallocated more dollars to schools with high shares of students eligible for free/reduced-price (FRL) lunch, creating a policy-induced per-pupil expenditure gap. Further, almost all schools raised external funds over the study period with most dollars raised concentrated in schools serving relatively affluent populations. We estimate that external fundraising offset the policy-induced per- pupil expenditure gap between schools enrolling the lowest and highest shares of FRL-eligible students by 26-39 percent. Other districts have attempted to reallocate fundraised dollars to all schools; such a policy in CPS would have little impact on most schools’ budgets.
The recent spike in book challenges has put school libraries at the center of heated political debates. I investigate the relationship between local politics and school library collections using data on books with controversial content in 6,631 public school libraries. Libraries in conservative areas have fewer titles with LGBTQ+, race/racism, or abortion content and more Christian fiction and discontinued Dr. Seuss titles. This is true even though most libraries have at least some controversial content. I also find that state laws that restrict curricular content are negatively related to some kinds of controversial books. Finally, I present descriptive short-term evidence that book challenges in the 2021-22 school year have had “chilling effects” on the acquisition of new LGBTQ+ titles.