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Markets (vouchers, choice, for-profits, vendors)

Patrick J. Wolf, John F. Witte, Brian Kisida.

The Milwaukee Parental Choice Program (MPCP), the first modern private school choice program in the United States, has grown from 341 students attending 7 private schools in 1990 to 27,857 students attending 126 private schools in 2019. The MPCP has been subject to extensive study focused largely on student performance on standardized tests. This study presents new data on the college enrollment, persistence, and graduation of MPCP and MPS students who were tracked over 12 years beginning in 2006. MPCP participants are compared with a matched sample of MPS students who lived in the same neighborhood and had similar demographic characteristics and test scores at the beginning of the study. The collective evidence in this paper indicates that students in the MPCP program have greater educational attainment than the comparison group, as measured by college experience and outcomes. Most of the college attainment benefits of the MPCP are clear for both students who were in ninth grade at the beginning of the study, for whom positive attainment effects have previously been reported, and students who were initially enrolled in grades three through eight, who we examine here for the first time. As of 2018, MPCP students have spent more total years in a four-year college than their MPS peers. The MPCP students in the grade three through eight sample attained college degrees at rates that are statistically significantly higher than their matched MPS peers.

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Elizabeth Setren.

Using novel variation in special education and English Language Learner classification from admissions lotteries, I find that students can achieve large academic gains without specialized services. Enrolling in a Boston charter school doubles the likelihood that students lose their special education or English Language Learner status, but exposes students to a high-performing general education program that includes high intensity tutoring, data driven instruction, and increased instructional time. The positive effects extend to college: charters nearly double the likelihood that English Language Learners enroll in four-year colleges and quadruple the likelihood that special education students graduate from two-year college. A multiple instrument strategy suggests that high quality general education practices drive the gains and finds no detrimental effect from lower classification rates.

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Alvaro Hofflinger, Paul T. von Hippel.

Debates in education policy draw on different theories about how to raise children’s achievement. The school competition theory holds that achievement rises when families can choose among competing schools. The school resource theory holds that achievement rises with school spending and resources that spending can buy. The family resources theory holds that children’s achievement rises with parental education and income. We test all three theories in Chile between 2002 and 2013, when reading and math scores rose by 0.2-0.3 standard deviations, while school competition, school resources, and family resources all increased. In a difference in differences analysis, we ask which Chilean municipalities saw the greatest increases in test scores. Test scores did not rise faster in municipalities with greater increases in competition, but did rise faster in municipalities with greater increases in school resources (teachers per student) and especially family resources (parental education, not income). Student grade point averages show similar patterns. Results contradict the school competition theory but fit the family resource theory and, to a lesser extent, the school resource theory.

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Lindsay Weixler, Jon Valant, Daphna Bassok, Justin B. Doromal, Alica Gerry.

The early childhood enrollment process involves searching for programs, applying, verifying eligibility(for publicly funded seats), and enrolling. Many families do not complete the process. We conducted a randomized controlled trial to assess strategies for communicating with families as they verify eligibility. Working with administrators in New Orleans, we randomly assigned families to receive either: (1) the district’s usual, modest communications, (2) the usual communications plus weekly text-message reminders formal in tone, or (3) the usual communications plus weekly text-messages reminders friendly and personal in tone. Text-message reminders increased verification rates by seven percentage points (regardless of tone), and personalized messages increased enrollment rates for some groups. The exchanges between parents and administrators reveal the key obstacles that parents confronted.

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

Recruiting and retaining teachers can be challenging for many schools, especially in low-performing urban schools in which teachers turn over at higher rates. In this study, we examine three types of school-level attributes that may influence teachers’ decisions to enter or transfer schools: malleable school processes, structural features of employment, and school characteristics. Using adaptive conjoint analysis survey design with a sample of teachers from low-performing, urban, turnaround schools in Tennessee, we find that five of the seven most highly valued features of schools are malleable processes: consistent administrative support, consistent enforcement of discipline, school safety, small class sizes, and availability of high-quality professional development. In particular, teachers rated as effective are more likely to prefer performance-based pay than teachers rated ineffective. We validate our results using administrative data from Tennessee on teachers’ actual mobility patterns.

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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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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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