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K-12 Education

Kathryn Gonzalez, Kathleen Lynch, Heather C. Hill.

Despite growing evidence that classroom interventions in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) can increase student achievement, there is little evidence regarding how these interventions affect teachers themselves and whether these changes predict student learning. We present results from a meta-analysis of 37 experimental studies of preK-12 STEM professional learning and curricular interventions, seeking to understand how STEM classroom interventions affect teacher knowledge and classroom instruction, and how these impacts relate to intervention impacts on student achievement. Compared with control group teachers, teachers who participated in STEM classroom interventions experienced improvements in content and pedagogical content knowledge and classroom instruction, with a pooled average impact estimate of +0.56 standard deviations. Programs with larger impacts on teacher practice yielded larger effects on student achievement, on average. Findings highlight the positive effects of STEM instructional interventions on teachers, and shed light on potential teacher-level mechanisms via which these programs influence student learning.

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Jing Liu, Michael S. Hayes, Seth Gershenson.

We use novel data on disciplinary referrals, including those that do not lead to suspensions, to better understand the origins of racial disparities in exclusionary discipline. We find significant differences between Black and white students in both referral rates and the rate at which referrals convert to suspensions. An infraction fixed-effects research design that compares the disciplinary outcomes of white and non-white students who were involved in the same multi-student incident identifies systematic racial biases in sentencing decisions. On both the intensive and extensive margins, Black and Hispanic students receive harsher sentences than their white co-conspirators. This result is driven by high school infractions and mainly applies to “more severe” infractions that involve fights or drugs. Reducing racial disparities in exclusionary discipline will require addressing underlying gaps in disciplinary referrals and the systematic biases that appear in the adjudication process.

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Katharine Meyer, Kelli A. Bird, Benjamin L. Castleman.
With rapid technological transformations to the labor market, many working adults return to college after graduation to obtain additional training or credentials. Using a comparative individual fixed effects strategy and an administrative panel dataset of enrollment and employment in Virginia, we provide the first causal estimates of credential “stacking” – earning two or more community college certificates or degrees – among working adults. We find stacking increases employment by four percentage points and quarterly wages by $375 (four percent). Returns are larger for individuals studying in Health and who return to college after first completing a short-term certificate.

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Emily Morton.

Four-day school weeks have proliferated across the United States in recent years, reaching over 650 public school districts in 24 states as of 2019, but little is known about their implementation and there is no consensus on their effects on students. This study uses district level panel data from Oklahoma and a difference-in-differences research design to provide estimates of the causal effect of the four-day school week on high school students’ ACT scores, attendance, and disciplinary incidents during school. Results indicate that four-day school weeks decrease per-pupil bullying incidents by approximately 39% and per-pupil fighting incidents by approximately 31%, but have no detectable effect on other incident types, ACT scores, or attendance.

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Andrew C. Johnston, Jonah Rockoff.

As unfunded pension liabilities grow, governments experiment with ways to curb costs. We examine the effect of a representative cost-cutting reform on the retention and productivity of workers. The reform reduced pension annuities and increased penalties for early retirement, projected to save 8 percent of revenues. We leverage administrative records and a discontinuity in the reform to estimate its effect on labor supply. The reform slightly increased worker retention, and we can rule out small attrition effects. The reform had no effect on worker output. The extensive and intensive margins of labor supply appear to be maintained under the reform.

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Aaron Phipps.

Using administrative data from D.C. Public Schools, I use exogenous variation in the presence and intensity of teacher monitoring to show it significantly improves student test scores and reduces suspensions. Uniquely, my setting allows me to separately identify the effect of pre-evaluation monitoring from post-evaluation feedback. Monitoring's effect is strongest among teachers with a large incentive to increase student test scores. As tests approach, unmonitored teachers sacrifice higher-level learning, classroom management, and student engagement, even though these pedagogical tasks are among the most effective. One possible explanation is teachers ``teach to the test'' as a risk mitigation strategy, even if it is less effective on average. This is supported by showing teaching to the test has a smaller effect on student test score variance than other teaching approaches. These results illustrate the importance of monitoring in contexts where teachers have the strongest incentive to deviate from pedagogically sound practices.

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Michael Gottfried, Michael Little, Arya Ansari.

The benefits of student-teacher ethnoracial matching on student outcomes—ranging from academic achievement to postsecondary attainment—are well documented. Yet, we know far less about the role of student-teacher ethnoracial matching in the earliest grades school and on less about effects on non-academic outcomes. The purpose of this study is to advance our understanding of student-teacher ethnoracial matching in early elementary school by exploring two executive function outcomes – working memory and cognitive flexibility. Drawing on data from the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study – Kindergarten Class of 2011, our findings suggest student-teacher ethnoracial matching benefits on working memory skills, though not cognitive flexibility. Observed associations for working memory are of similar size to those for academic achievement outcomes and are largest for Black and Latinx students.

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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 predict stronger student achievement. Children who participated in summer programs that included mathematics activities experienced significantly better mathematics achievement outcomes, compared to their control group counterparts. We find an average weighted impact estimate of +0.10 standard deviations on mathematics achievement outcomes. We find similar effects for programs conducted in higher- and lower-poverty settings. We undertook a secondary analysis exploring the effect of summer programs on non-cognitive outcomes and found positive mean impacts. The results indicate that summer programs are a promising tool to strengthen children’s mathematical proficiency outside of school time.

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Meghan Comstock, Kenneth A. Shores, Camila Polanco, Erica Litke, Kirsten Lee Hill, Laura M. Desimone.

As states and districts expand their goals for equitable mathematics instruction to focus on cultural responsiveness and rigor, it is critical to understand how teachers integrate multiple teaching approaches. Drawing on survey data from a larger study of professional learning, we use mixture modeling to identify seven unique ways that middle school mathematics teachers integrate ambitious, traditional, and culturally responsive (CR) mathematics instruction. The resulting typology is driven almost exclusively by variation in CR teaching. About half of teachers reported rarely engaging in CR teaching. Teachers who emphasized CR teaching tended to be teachers of color and have high CR teaching self-efficacy. Findings suggest that tailoring teacher development to how teachers blend multiple approaches may best support equitable mathematics instruction.

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Sam Sims, Harry Fletcher-Wood, Alison O’Mara-Eves, Sarah Cottingham, Claire Stansfield, Josh Goodrich, Jo Van Herwegen, Jake Anders.

Multiple meta-analyses have now documented small positive effects of teacher professional development (PD) on pupil test scores. However, the field lacks any validated explanatory account of what differentiates more from less effective in-service training. As a result, researchers have little in the way of advice for those tasked with designing or commissioning better PD. We set out to remedy this by developing a new theory of effective PD based on combinations of causally active components targeted at developing teachers’ insights, goals, techniques, and practice. We test two important implications of the theory using a systematic review and meta-analysis of 104 randomized controlled trials, finding qualified support for our framework. While further research is required to test and refine the theory, we argue that it presents an important step forward in being able to offer actionable advice to those responsible for improving teacher PD.

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