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K-12 Education

Gary T. Henry, Lam Pham, Adam Kho, Ron Zimmer.

A growing body of research evaluates the effects of turnaround on chronically low-performing schools. We extend this research to formally test factors that either mediate or suppress the effects of two turnaround initiatives in Tennessee: the Achievement School District (ASD) and local Innovation Zones (iZones).  Using difference-in-differences models within a mediational framework, we find that hiring highly effective teachers and employing effective principals partially explain positive effects of iZone interventions.  In the ASD, high levels of teacher turnover suppress potential positive effects after the first year.  In iZone schools, several factors suppress even larger positive effects: hiring more novice teachers; hiring more principals with less experience; and high levels of student chronic absenteeism and student in-migration. 

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Morgan Polikoff, Shauna E. Campbell, Cory Koedel, Quynh Tien Le, Tenice Hardaway, Hovanes Gasparian.

Textbooks are a widely used educational intervention that can affect student achievement, and the marginal cost of choosing a more effective textbook is typically small. However, we know little about how textbooks get from the publisher to the classroom. We use a lens of institutional theory and interviews with district leaders in a stratified random sample of 34 California school districts to investigate the ways mathematics textbook adoption practices vary and predict adoption decisions. We find isomorphic, highly formalized adoption processes in most districts. However, we observe some differences along dimensions of district size, technological interest/infrastructure, and English learner concentration. We recommend states produce and update lists of high quality materials early and often, and that they use a highly rigorous evaluation process. We also recommend states experiment with encouraging similar districts to partner on textbook evaluation and adoption to respond to district demands for information and capacity building around curricula.

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Eric A. Hanushek, Paul E. Peterson, Laura M. Talpey, Ludger Woessmann.
Concerns about the breadth of the U.S. income distribution and limited intergenerational mobility have led to a focus on educational achievement gaps by socio-economic status (SES).  Uintertemporally linked assessments from NAEP, TIMSS, and PISA, we trace the achievement of U.S. student cohorts born between 1954 and 2001.  Achievement gaps between the top and bottom deciles and 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 overall improvements in achievement levels, which have risen at age 14 but remained unchanged at age 17 for the most recent quarter century.  The long-term failure of major educational policies to alter SES gaps suggests a need to reconsider standard approaches to mitigating disparities.

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W. Bentley MacLeod, Miguel Urquiola.

Friedman (1955) argued that giving parents freedom to choose schools would improve education. His argument was simple and compelling because it extended results from markets for consumer goods to education. We review the evidence, which yields surprisingly mixed results on Friedman's prediction. A key reason is that households often seem to choose schools based on their absolute achievement rather than their value added. We show this can be rational in a model based on three ingredients economists have highlighted since Friedman worked on the issue. First, education is an investment into human capital (Becker, 1964). Second, labor markets can feature wage premia: individuals of a given skill level may receive higher wages if they match to more productive firms (Card et al., 2018). Third, distance influences school choice and the placements schools produce (Abdulkadiroglu et al., 2017, Weinstein, 2017). These imply that choice alone is too crude a mechanism to ensure the effective provision of schooling.

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Jason B. Cook, Vladimir Kogan, Stéphane Lavertu, Zachary Peskowitz.

Governments around the world have privatized public services in the name of efficiency and citizen empowerment, but some argue that privatization could also affect citizen participation in democratic governance. We explore this possibility by estimating the impact of charter schools (which are publicly funded but privately operated) on school district elections. The analysis indicates that the enrollment of district students in charter schools reduced the number of votes cast in district school board contests and, correspondingly, reduced turnout in the odd-year elections in which those contests are held. This impact is concentrated in districts that serve low-achieving, impoverished, and minority students, leading to a modest decline in the share of voters in those districts who are black and who have children. There is little evidence that charter school expansion affected the outcomes of school board elections or turnout in other elections

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Julie Cohen, Susanna Loeb, Luke Miller, James Wyckoff.

Ten years ago, the reform of teacher evaluation was touted as a mechanism to improve teacher effectiveness. In response, virtually every state redesigned its teacher evaluation system. Recently, a growing narrative suggests these reforms failed and should be abandoned. This response may be overly simplistic. We explore the variability of New York City principals’ implementation of policies intended to promote teaching effectiveness. Drawing on survey, interview, and administrative data, we analyze whether principals believe they can use teacher evaluation and tenure policies to improve teaching effectiveness, and how such perceptions influence policy implementation. We find that principals with greater perceived agency are more likely to strategically employ tenure and evaluation policies. Results have important implications for principal training and policy implementation.

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Emily Rauscher.

Contradictory evidence of the relationship between education funding and student achievement could reflect heterogeneous effects by revenue source or student characteristics. This study examines potential heterogeneous effects of a particular type of local revenue – bond funds for capital investments – on achievement by socioeconomic status. Comparing California school districts within a narrow window on either side of the cutoff of voter support required to pass a general obligation bond measure, this study uses dynamic regression discontinuity models to estimate effects of passing a bond on academic achievement among low- and high-SES students. Results consistently suggest that passing a bond measure increases achievement among low- but not high-SES students. However, these benefits for low-SES students are delayed and emerge 6 years after an election.

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Seth Gershenson, Cassandra M. D. Hart, Joshua Hyman, Constance Lindsay, Nicholas W. Papageorge.

We examine the long-run impacts of having a same-race teacher. First, we leverage data from the Tennessee STAR class-size experiment to show that black students randomly assigned to a black teacher in grades K-3 are 5 percentage points (7%) more likely to graduate from high school and 4 percentage points (13%) more likely to enroll in college than their same-school, same-race peers not assigned to a black teacher. Second, we replicate these results in North Carolina using quasi-experimental methods. Finally, we formally define "role model effects" as information provision, which facilitates an exploration of possible mechanisms that drive these results.

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Sarah R. Cohodes, Elizabeth Setren, Christopher R. Walters.

Can schools that boost student outcomes reproduce their success at new campuses? We study a policy reform that allowed effective charter schools in Boston, Massachusetts to replicate their school models at new locations. Estimates based on randomized admission lotteries show that replication charter schools generate large achievement gains on par with those produced by their parent campuses. The average effectiveness of Boston’s charter middle school sector increased after the reform despite a doubling of charter market share. An exploration of mechanisms shows that Boston charter schools reduce the returns to teacher experience and compress the distribution of teacher effectiveness, suggesting the highly standardized practices in place at charter schools may facilitate replicability.

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Joshua Goodman, Michael Hurwitz, Jisung Park, Jonathan Smith.

We demonstrate that heat inhibits learning and that school air-conditioning may mitigate this effect. Student fixed effects models using 10 million PSAT-retakers show hotter school days in years before the test reduce scores, with extreme heat being particularly damaging. Weekend and summer temperature has little impact, suggesting heat directly disrupts learning time. New nationwide, school-level measures of air-conditioning penetration suggest patterns consistent with such infrastructure largely offsetting heat’s effects. Without air-conditioning, a 1°F hotter school year reduces that year’s learning by one percent. Hot school days disproportionately impact minority students, accounting for roughly five percent of the racial achievement gap.

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