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Multiple outcomes of education

Jeffrey T. Denning, Eric R. Eide, Kevin J. Mumford, Daniel Sabey.

After increasing in the 1970s and 1980s, time to bachelor’s degree has declined since the 1990s. We document this fact using data from three nationally representative surveys. We show that this pattern is occurring across school types and for all student types. Using administrative student records from 11 large universities, we confirm the finding and show that it is robust to alternative sample definitions. We discuss what might explain the decline in time to bachelor’s degree by considering trends in student preparation, state funding, student enrollment, study time, and student employment during college.

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Gregory Gilpin, Ezra Karger, Peter Nencka.

Local governments spend over 12 billion dollars annually funding the operation of 15,000 public libraries in the United States. This funding supports widespread library use: more than 50% of Americans visit public libraries each year. But despite extensive public investment in libraries, surprisingly little research quantifies the effects of public libraries on communities and children. We use data on the near-universe of U.S. public libraries to study the effects of capital spending shocks on library resources, patron usage, student achievement, and local housing prices. We use a dynamic difference-in-difference approach to show that library capital investment increases children’s attendance at library events by 18%, children’s checkouts of items by 21%, and total library visits by 21%. Increases in library use translate into improved children’s test scores in nearby school districts: a $1,000 or greater per-student capital investment in local public libraries increases reading test scores by 0.02 standard deviations and has no effects on math test scores. Housing prices do not change after a sharp increase in public library capital investment, suggesting that residents internalize the increased cost and improved quality of their public libraries.

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Jeffrey T. Denning, Richard Murphy, Felix Weinhardt.

This paper considers an unavoidable feature of the school environment, class rank. What are the long-run effects of a student’s ordinal rank in elementary school? Using administrative data on all public-school students in Texas, we show that students with a higher third-grade academic rank, conditional on achievement and classroom fixed effects, have higher subsequent test scores, are more likely to take AP classes, graduate from high school, enroll in and graduate from college, and ultimately have higher earnings 19 years later. We also discuss the necessary assumptions for the identification of rank effects and propose new solutions to identification challenges. The paper concludes by exploring the tradeoff between higher quality schools and higher rank in the presence of these rank-based peer effects.

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Ann Owens, Thalia Tom.

Past research extensively documents inequalities in educational opportunity and achievement by students’ race/ethnicity or socioeconomic status (SES). Less scholarship focuses on how race/ethnicity and SES interact and jointly contribute to educational inequalities. We advance this burgeoning line of scholarship by charting math achievement trajectories and school socioeconomic composition by both student race/ethnicity and SES in California from 2014-15 through 2017-18. Linked administrative data allow us to operationalize student SES more richly than point-in-time free meal eligibility, a measure commonly used in education research. We find evidence of considerable racial/ethnic disparities in math achievement and school socioeconomic composition among same-SES students. White and Asian students score substantially higher on math achievement tests and attend higher-SES schools than same-SES Hispanic and Black students. Achievement and contextual inequalities are related: differential exposure to school SES by student race/ethnicity is associated with within-SES racial/ethnic achievement disparities. Our findings show that SES does not translate into the same contextual or achievement advantages for students of all racial/ethnic groups, demonstrating the importance of jointly considering student race/ethnicity and SES in future research and policy development.

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Jing Liu, Julie Cohen.

Valid and reliable measurements of teaching quality facilitate school-level decision-making and policies pertaining to teachers. Using nearly 1,000 word-to-word transcriptions of 4th- and 5th-grade English language arts classes, we apply novel text-as-data methods to develop automated measures of teaching to complement classroom observations traditionally done by human raters. This approach is free of rater bias and enables the detection of three instructional factors that are well aligned with commonly used observation protocols: classroom management, interactive instruction, and teacher-centered instruction. The teacher-centered instruction factor is a consistent negative predictor of value-added scores, even after controlling for teachers’ average classroom observation scores. The interactive instruction factor predicts positive value-added scores. Our results suggest that the text-as-data approach has the potential to enhance existing classroom observation systems through collecting far more data on teaching with a lower cost, higher speed, and the detection of multifaceted classroom practices.

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Jessica Lasky-Fink, Carly D. Robinson, Hedy Chang, Todd Rogers.

Many states mandate districts or schools notify parents when students have missed multiple unexcused days of school. We report a  randomized experiment (N = 131,312) evaluating the impact of sending parents truancy notifications modified to target behavioral barriers that can hinder effective parental engagement. Modified truancy notifications that used simplified language, emphasized parental efficacy, and highlighted the negative incremental effects of missing school reduced absences by 0.07 days compared to the standard, legalistic, and punitively-worded notification—an estimated 40% improvement over the standard truancy notification. This work illustrates how behavioral insights and randomized experiments can be used to improve administrative communications in education.

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Mark J. Chin, Lena Shi.
Given states’ balanced budget requirements, investment decisions often involve trade-offs between policymakers’ budget priorities. How does political party control affect investment decisions and outcomes? Using a regression discontinuity design based on close state elections between 1984-2013, we find that marginally Democratic legislatures spend more on higher education in states with higher unemployment and poverty rates. However, Democrats spend less on K-12 education, particularly in more liberal states. Democrats do not appear to decrease K-12 spending to increase higher education, but rather, to fund welfare. Gains in local revenue offset party differences in K-12 spending such that current expenditures in K-12 increase and student-teacher ratios decrease under Democrats, though not enough to change attendance rates. Increased welfare spending under Democrats appear consistent with their redistributive goals that also benefit their constituents, as health insurance coverage for non-White children also expand. Altogether our results indicate that policymakers make spending decisions while considering constituents’ needs and the availability of external budget sources.

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Lucy C. Sorensen, Shawn D. Bushway, Elizabeth J. Gifford.
Nationwide, school principals are given wide discretion to use disciplinary tools like suspension and expulsion to create a safe learning environment. There is legitimate concern that this power can have negative consequences, particularly for the students who are excluded. This study uses linked disciplinary, education, and criminal justice records from 2008 to 2016 in North Carolina to examine the impact of principal driven disciplinary decisions on middle school student outcomes. We find that principals who are more likely to remove students lead to reductions in reported rates of minor student misconduct. However, this deterrence comes at a high cost – these harsher principals generate more juvenile justice complaints and reduce high school graduation rates for all students in their schools. Students who committed minor disciplinary infractions in a school with a harsh principal suffer additional declines in attendance and test scores. Finally, principals exhibiting racial bias in their disciplinary decisions also widen educational gaps between White and Black students.

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Gary T. Henry, Shelby M. McNeill, Erica Harbatkin.

Test-based accountability pressures have been shown to result in transferring less effective teachers into untested early grades and more effective teachers to tested grades. In this paper, we evaluate whether a state initiative to turnaround its lowest performing schools reproduced a similar pattern of assigning teachers and unintended, negative effects on the outcomes of younger students in untested grades. Using a sharp regression discontinuity design, we find consistent evidence of increased chronic absenteeism and grade retention in the first year. Also, the findings suggest negative effects on early literacy and reading comprehension in the first year of the reform that rebounded somewhat in the second year. Schools labeled low performing reassigned low effectiveness teachers from tested grades into untested early grades, though these assignment practices were no more prevalent in reform than control schools. Our results suggest that accountability-driven school reform can yield negative consequences for younger students that may undermine the success and sustainability of school turnaround efforts.

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Michela Carlana, Eliana La Ferrara.

In response to the COVID-19 outbreak, the governments of most countries ordered the closure of schools, potentially exacerbating existing learning gaps. This paper evaluates the effectiveness of an intervention implemented in Italian middle schools that provides free individual tutoring online to disadvantaged students during lock-down. Tutors are university students who volunteer for 3 to 6 hours per week. They were randomly assigned to middle school students, from a list of potential beneficiaries compiled by school principals. Using original survey data collected from students, parents, teachers and tutors, we find that the program substantially increased students’ academic performance (by 0.26 SD on average) and that it significantly improved their socio-emotional skills, aspirations, and psychological well-being. Effects are stronger for children from lower socioeconomic status and, in the case of psychological well-being, for immigrant children.

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