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K-12 Education

Leib Sutcher, Linda Darling-Hammond, Desiree Carver-Thomas.

Recent media reports of teacher shortages across the country are confirmed by the analysis of several national data sets reported in this paper. Shortages are particularly severe in special education, mathematics, science, and bilingual/English learner education, and in locations with lower wages and poorer working conditions. Shortages are projected to grow based on declines in teacher education enrollments, coupled with student enrollment growth, efforts to reduce pupil-teacher ratios, and ongoing high attrition rates. If attrition were reduced by half to rates comparable to those in high-achieving nations, shortages would largely disappear. We describe evidence-based policies that could create competitive, equitable compensation packages for teachers; enhance the supply of qualified teachers for high-need fields and locations; improve retention, especially in hard-to-staff schools; and develop a national teacher supply market.

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Laura E. Hernández, Linda Darling-Hammond, Julie Adams, Kathryn Bradley.

One of the mysteries of education reform is how leaders and educators can successfully instantiate, sustain, and spread student-centered pedagogical practices from a few schools to many others. Advocates for deeper learning grapple with this mystery as they seek to transform teaching and learning to prepare students to meet the demands of the 21st century and to close the opportunity gap between advantaged and disadvantaged groups. While research suggests that deeper learning strategies that support critical thinking and problem-solving can yield improved student outcomes, implementing these strategies is not easy, as they require reimagining school environments and changing traditional approaches to teaching. This report highlights how three networks of schools engaged in deeper learning have managed this feat. It describes the systems and structures the networks have used to instantiate their equitable deeper learning models in diverse public school settings to serve students in more personalized and productive ways.

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Anna Maier, Julia Daniel, Jeannie Oakes, Livia Lam.

This report synthesizes the research evidence about the impact of community schools on student and school outcomes. Its aim is to support and inform school, community, district, and state leaders as they consider, propose, or implement community schools as a strategy for providing equitable, high-quality education to all young people. We conclude that well-implemented community schools lead to improvement in student and school outcomes and contribute to meeting the educational needs of low-achieving students in high-poverty schools, and sufficient research exists to meet the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) standard for an evidence-based intervention.

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Marianne Bitler, Sean P. Corcoran, Thurston Domina, Emily Penner.

Estimates of teacher “value-added” suggest teachers vary substantially in their ability to promote student learning. Prompted by this finding, many states and school districts have adopted value-added measures as indicators of teacher job performance. In this paper, we conduct a new test of the validity of value-added models. Using administrative student data from New York City, we apply commonly estimated value-added models to an outcome teachers cannot plausibly affect: student height. We find the standard deviation of teacher effects on height is nearly as large as that for math and reading achievement, raising obvious questions about validity. Subsequent analysis finds these “effects” are largely spurious variation (noise), rather than bias resulting from sorting on unobserved factors related to achievement. Given the difficulty of differentiating signal from noise in real-world teacher effect estimates, this paper serves as a cautionary tale for their use in practice.

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Michael Gilraine, Uros Petronijevic, John D. Singleton.

While school choice may enhance competition, incentives for public schools to raise productivity may be muted if public education is viewed as imperfectly substitutable with alternatives. This paper estimates the aggregate effect of charter school expansion on education quality while accounting for the horizontal differentiation of charter school programs. To do so, we combine student-level administrative data with novel information about the educational programs of charter schools that opened in North Carolina following the removal of the statewide cap in 2011. The dataset contains students' standardized test scores as well as geocoded residential addresses, which allow us to compare the test score changes of students who lived near the new charters prior to the policy change with those for students who lived farther away. We apply this research design to estimate separate treatment effects for exposure to charter schools that are and are not differentiated horizontally from public school instruction. The results indicate learning gains for treated students that are driven entirely by non-horizontally differentiated charter schools: we find that non-horizontally differentiated charter school expansion causes a 0.05 SD increase in math scores. These learning gains are driven by public schools responding to increased competition.

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Alex Eble, Feng Hu.

We study the transmission of beliefs about gender differences in math ability from adults to children and how this affects girls’ academic performance relative to boys. We exploit randomly assigned variation in the proportion of a child’s middle school classmates whose parents believe boys are innately better than girls at learning math. An increase in exposure to peers whose parents report this belief increases a child’s likelihood of believing it, with similar effects for boys and girls and greater effects from peers of the same gender. This exposure also affects children’s perceived difficulty of math, aspirations, and math performance, generating gains for boys and losses for girls. 

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Lucy C. Sorensen, Helen F. Ladd.

High teacher turnover imposes numerous burdens on the schools and districts from which teachers depart. Some of these burdens are explicit and take the form of recruiting, hiring and training costs. Others are more hidden and take the form of changes to the composition and quality of the teaching staff. This study focuses on the latter. We ask how schools respond to spells of high teacher turnover, and assess organizational and human capital effects. Our analysis uses two decades of administrative data on math and ELA middle school teachers in North Carolina to determine school responses to turnover across different policy environments and macroeconomic climates. Based on models controlling for school contexts and trends, we find that turnover has marked, and lasting, negative consequences for the quality of the instructional staff and student achievement. Our results highlight the need for heightened policy attention to school specific issues of teacher retention.

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Matthew Kraft, Eric Brunner, Shaun Dougherty, David Schwegman.

In recent years, states have sought to increase accountability for public school teachers by implementing a package of reforms centered on high-stakes evaluation systems. We examine the effect of these reforms on the supply and quality of new teachers. Leveraging variation across states and time, we find that accountability reforms reduced the number of newly licensed teacher candidates and increased the likelihood of unfilled teaching positions, particularly in hard-to-staff schools. Evidence also suggests that reforms increased the quality of new labor supply by reducing the likelihood new teachers attended unselective undergraduate institutions. Decreases in job security, satisfaction, and autonomy are likely mechanisms for these effects.

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Anne Podolsky, Linda Darling-Hammond, Christopher Doss, Sean Reardon.

Despite wide achievement gaps across California between students from different racial and socioeconomic backgrounds, some school districts have excelled at supporting the learning of all their students. This analysis identifies these positive outlier districts—those in which students of color, as well as White students, consistently achieve at higher levels than students from similar racial/ethnic backgrounds and from families of similar income and education levels in most other districts. These results are predicted, in significant part, by the qualifications of districts’ teachers, as measured by their certification and experience. In particular, the proportion of underprepared teachers—those teaching on emergency permits, waivers, and intern credentials—is associated with decreased achievement for all students, while teaching experience is associated with increased achievement, especially for students of color.

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Kenneth A. Shores, Ha Eun Kim, Mela Still.

We characterize the extent to which Black-White gaps for multiple educational outcomes are linked across school districts in the United States. Gaps in disciplinary action, grade-level retention, classification into special education and Gifted and Talented, and Advanced Placement course-taking are large in magnitude and correlated. Racial differences in family income and parent education are strikingly consistent predictors of these gaps, and districts with large gaps in one outcome are likely to have large gaps in another. Socioeconomic and segregation variables explain 1.7 to 3.5 times more variance for achievement relative to non-achievement outcomes. Systemic patterns of racial socioeconomic inequality drive inequalities across multiple educational outcomes; however, discretionary policies at local levels are more influential for non-achievement outcomes.

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