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K-12 Education

Jeremy Singer, Julie A. Marsh, David Menefee-Libey, Jacob Alonso, Dwuana Bradley, Hanora Tracy.

Nearly all schools in the United States closed in spring 2020, at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. With a micropolitical lens, we analyze traditional public and charter schools reopenings for the 2020-21 school year in five urban districts. Districts’ adherence to and strategic uses of public health guidance, as well as a combination of union-district relations and labor market dynamics, influenced reopening. Parents, city and state lawmakers, and local institutional conditions also played a role, helping to explain differences across cases. We provide a rich description of reopening decisions in each of our case districts, and offer theoretically-grounded explanations for how factors identified in prior studies—which were interrelated and varied across local contexts—influenced district decision-making.

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Jackie Eunjung Relyea, James S. Kim, Patrick Rich.

The current study replicated and extended the previous findings of content-integrated literacy intervention focusing on its effectiveness on first- and second-grade English learners’ (N = 1,314) reading comprehension, writing, vocabulary knowledge, and oral proficiency. Statistically significant findings were replicated on science and social studies vocabulary knowledge (ES = .51 and .53, respectively) and argumentative writing (ES = .27 and .41, respectively). Furthermore, treatment group outperformed control group on reading (ES = .08) and listening comprehension (ES = .14). Vocabulary knowledge and oral proficiency mediated treatment effects on reading comprehension, whereas only oral proficiency mediated effects on writing. Findings replicate main effects on vocabulary knowledge and writing, while also extending previous research by highlighting mechanisms underlying improved reading comprehension and writing.

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Angel H. Harris, Darryl V. Hill, Matthew A. Lenard.

Disparities in gifted representation across demographic subgroups represents a large and persistent challenge in U.S. public schools. In this paper, we measure the impacts of a school-wide curricular intervention designed to address such disparities. We implemented Nurturing for a Bright Tomorrow (NBT) as a cluster randomized trial across elementary schools with the low gifted identification rates in one of the nation’s largest school systems. NBT did not boost formal gifted identification or math achievement in the early elementary grades. It did increase reading achievement in select cohorts and broadly improved performance on a gifted identification measure that assesses nonverbal abilities distinct from those captured by more commonly used screeners. These impacts were driven by Hispanic and female students. Results suggest that policymakers consider a more diverse battery of qualifying exams to narrow disparity gaps in gifted representation and carefully weigh tradeoffs between universal interventions like NBT and more targeted approaches.

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Claire McMorris, David S. Knight.

The Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act passed by Congress in 2020 included significant aid to state education systems. These included direct aid to K-12 districts and higher education institutions, and funds to be used at the discretion of Governors through the Governor’s Emergency Education Relief Fund (GEER). We examine the factors influencing where and how GEER funding was distributed across state K-12 systems and what inequities were introduced in its spending. Using a mixed methods analysis of state GEER spending plans and district-level finance data, we focus specifically on how governors sought to target schools serving disadvantaged student groups. We find that several state leaders decided to send their GEER funds to school districts via funding formulas, and that some Governors made decisions to direct their GEER funds towards certain student groups. State spending patterns were not strongly related to governor political ideology or the states’ existing funding formulas or inter-district resource allocation patterns. We discuss the implications of this policy related to two state case examples, California and New York, and provide insight for future education stimulus funding proposals.

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James S. Kim, Patrick Rich, Ethan Scherer.

To address the challenge of improving third grade reading comprehension, we developed and evaluated the long-term effects of a sustained content literacy intervention called the Model of Reading Engagement (MORE), which emphasizes building domain and topic knowledge schemas from Grade 1 to Grade 3. The MORE intervention emphasizes thematic lessons that provide an intellectual framework for helping students connect new learning to a general schema (e.g., how scientists study past events, how systems function properly). Over three years, the treatment group students participated in (a) spring Grade 1 thematic content literacy lessons in science and social studies, (b) fall to spring Grade 2 thematic content literacy lessons in science, (c) remote Grade 3 thematic content literacy lessons in science, and (d) wide reading of thematically related informational texts in the summer months following Grade 1 and Grade 2. During the third grade school year (SY 2020-21), the COVID-19 pandemic required remote schooling to be in place from fall to spring and the Grade 3 MORE was provided to both treatment and control students. Accordingly, we examine long-term effects on third graders’ outcomes comparing a treatment group that received the Grade 1, Grade 2, and Grade 3 MORE treatment to a control condition that received the Grade 3 MORE treatment. Intent-to-treat estimates show that the students randomly assigned to the treatment condition outperformed control students in reading comprehension (ES = 0.11) and mathematics (ES = 0.14) on third grade state standardized assessments. Subgroup analyses also revealed positive impacts for student living in low- to moderate-socioeconomic status neighborhoods on both reading comprehension (ES = .13) and mathematics (ES = .20). Findings indicate that a sustained content literacy intervention may be a scalable approach for accelerating and equalizing third-graders’ reading comprehension and math outcomes.

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Dominique J. Baker, Karly S. Ford, Samantha Viano, Marc P. Johnston-Guerrero.

How scholars name different racial groups has powerful salience for understanding what researchers study. We explored how education researchers used racial terminology in recently published, high-profile, peer-reviewed studies. Our sample included all original empirical studies published in the non-review AERA journals from 2009 to 2019. We found two-thirds of articles used at least one racial category term, with an increase from about half to almost three-quarters of published studies between 2009 and 2019. Other trends include the increasing popularity of the term Black, the emergence of gender-expansive terms such as Latinx, the popularity of the term Hispanic in quantitative studies, and the paucity of studies with terms connoting missing race data or including terms describing Indigenous and multiracial peoples.

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Ariana Audisio, Rebecca Taylor-Perryman, Tim Tasker, Matthew P. Steinberg.

Teachers are the most important school-specific factor in student learning. Yet, little evidence exists linking teacher professional learning programs and the various strategies or components that comprise them to student achievement. In this paper, we examine a teacher fellowship model for professional learning designed and implemented by Leading Educators, a national nonprofit organization that aims to bridge research and practice to improve instructional quality and accelerate learning across school systems. During the 2015-16 and 2016-17 school years, Leading Educators conducted its fellowship program for teachers and school leaders to provide educators ongoing, collaborative, job-embedded professional development and to improve student achievement. Relying on quasi-experimental methods, we find that a school’s participation in the fellowship model increased student proficiency rates in math and English language arts on state achievement exams. Further, student achievement benefitted from a more sustained duration of teacher participation in the fellowship model, and the impact on student achievement varied depending on the share of a school’s teachers who participated in the fellowship model and the extent to which teachers independently selected into the fellowship model or were appointed to participate by school leaders. Taken together, findings from this paper should inform professional learning organizations, schools, and policymakers on the design, implementation and impact of teacher professional learning.

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Emily Rauscher, Yifan Shen.

The equity-efficiency tradeoff and cumulative return theories predict larger returns to school spending in areas with higher previous investment in children. Equity – not efficiency – is therefore used to justify progressive school funding: spending more in communities with fewer financial resources. Yet it remains unclear how returns to school spending vary across areas by previous investment. Using county-level panel data 2009-2018 from the Stanford Education Data Archive, the F-33 finance survey, and National Vital Statistics, we estimate achievement returns to school spending and test whether returns vary between counties with low and high levels of initial human capital (measured as birth weight), child poverty, and previous spending. Spending returns are higher among counties with low previous investment (counties that also have a high percent of Black students). Evidence of diminishing returns by previous investment documents another way that schools increase equality and establishes another argument for progressive school funding: efficiency.

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David Blazar, Cynthia Pollard.

The pursuit of multiple educational outcomes makes teaching a complex craft subject to potential conflicts and competing commitments. Using a dataset in which teachers were randomly assigned to students paired with videotapes of instruction, we both document and unpack such a tradeoff. Upper-elementary teachers who excel at raising students’ math test scores often are less successful at improving student-reported engagement in class (and vice versa). Further, the teaching practices that improve math test scores (e.g., cognitively demanding content) can simultaneously decrease engagement. At the same time, paired quantitative and qualitative analyses reveal two areas of practice that support both outcomes: active mathematics with opportunities for hands-on participation; and established routines and procedures to proactively organize the classroom environment. In addition to guiding practice-based teacher education, our mixed-methods analysis can serve as a model for rigorously studying and identifying dimensions of “good” teaching that promote multidimensional student development.

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Andrew Camp, Gema Zamarro, Josh B. McGee.

The COVID-19 pandemic has been a trying period for teachers. Teachers had to adapt to unexpected conditions, teaching in unprecedented ways. As a result, teachers' levels of stress and burnout have been high throughout the pandemic, raising concerns about a potential increase in teacher turnover and future teacher shortages. We use administrative data for the state of Arkansas to document the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on teachers’ mobility and attrition during the years 2018-19 to 2021-2022. We find stable turnover rates during the first year of the pandemic (2020-2021) but an increase in teacher mobility and attrition in the second year (2021-2022). Teacher mobility and attrition increased by 2 percentage points (10% relative increase) this second year but with heterogeneous effects across regions and depending on the teacher and school characteristics. Our results raise concerns about increased strain in areas already experiencing teacher shortages and a potential reduction in the diversity of the Arkansas teacher labor force.

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