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Parents and communities
Aspirations shape important future-oriented behaviors, including educational investment. Higher family aspirations for children predict better educational outcomes in multiple developing countries. Unfortunately, aspirations sometimes outstrip people's ability to pursue them. We study the relationship between family aspirations for children and later child educational outcomes in an extremely poor context. We observe caregivers' educational and career aspirations for thousands of rural Gambian children about to begin schooling. While higher aspirations predict subsequent educational investment and, three years later, better child performance on reading/math tests, these gains are small in terms of skills learned, and high-aspirations children remain far from achieving literacy/numeracy. In contrast, a bundled supply-side intervention generated large literacy/numeracy gains in these areas. Since unobserved correlates of aspirations and educational outcomes likely bias our estimates upwards, the true aspirations-learning relationship may be even smaller. We conclude higher aspirations alone are insufficient to achieve literacy/numeracy in this, and perhaps similar contexts.
This study examines the effects of internal migration driven by severe natural disasters on host communities, and the mechanisms behind these effects, using the large influx of migrants into Florida public schools after Hurricane Maria. I find adverse effects of the influx in the first year on existing student test scores, disciplinary problems, and student mobility among high-performing students in middle and high school that also persist in the second year. I also find evidence that compensatory resource allocation within schools is an important factor driving the adverse effects of large, unexpected migrant flows on incumbent students in the short-run.
One of the controversies surrounding charter schools is whether these schools may either “cream skim” high-performing students from traditional public schools or “pushout” low-achieving students or students with discipline histories, leaving traditional public schools to educate the most challenging students. We use these terms strictly for brevity and acknowledge that many of the reasons that students are labeled high- or low-performing academically or behaviorally are beyond the control of the student. In this study, we use longitudinal statewide data from Tennessee and North Carolina and linear probability models to examine whether there is evidence consistent with these selective enrollment practices. Because school choice programs managed by districts (magnet and open enrollment programs) have a similar ability to cream skim and pushout students, we also examine these outcomes for these programs. Across the various school choice programs, magnet schools have the most evidence of cream skimming, but this might be expected as they often have selective admissions. For charter schools, we do not find patterns in the data consistent with cream skimming, but we do find evidence consistent with pushout behaviors based on discipline records. Finally, some have raised concerns that students may be pushed out near accountability test dates, but our results suggest no evidence consistent with this claim.
In order for school choice reforms to fulfill their potential, school choosers must be informed about their options. We conducted a randomized controlled trial during the school choice application period in New Orleans to assess the effects of providing information to parents. Families with children entering pre-K, kindergarten, or ninth grade were assigned to one of two treatment groups or a control group. A “performance” group received lists of the highest-performing schools or programs available (via U.S. mail, email, and text message). A “neighborhood” group received lists of the schools or programs in their home geographic zone. We find that the performance treatment made applicants significantly more likely to request high-performing schools, though the effects were concentrated among high school choosers. The performance treatment had especially strong effects among families of students with disabilities. The neighborhood treatment had only modest effects. We consider these findings in the context of questions about the role of information in school choice markets, as well as which families may be in particular need of support.
The opioid crisis is widely recognized as one of the most important public health emergencies of our time, and an issue that is particularly acute for rural communities. We propose a simple model of how opioids in a community can impact the education outcomes of children based on both the extent of exposure to opioids in the community and the child’s vulnerability to any given level of exposure. Next, we document the spatial dimensions of the intersection of the opioid crisis and standardized test scores using national data, with a focus on rural communities. Finally, we estimate the extent to which variation in one measure of the opioid crisis, drug-related mortality, is related to variation in test scores. We find strong relationships between the two, as well as evidence that the relationship is particularly salient for 3rd grade students in rural communities.
This study assesses the effects of two text-messaging programs for parents that aim to support the development of math skills in prekindergarten students. One program focuses purely on math, while the other takes an identical approach but focuses on a combination of math, literacy, and social-emotional skills. We find no evidence that the math-only program benefits children’s development. However, the combination program shows greater promise, particularly for girls. Quantile regressions indicate that the effects are concentrated in the lower half of the outcome distribution. Results imply that girls may have started the year behind boys in math and caught up to and even surpassed boys when their parents have access to the program that combines topics. Our results also provide evidence that the structure of behavioral interventions can affect who benefits from the program, sometimes in unexpected ways, to produce meaningful differences in outcomes. We discuss and provide evidence for various hypotheses that could explain these differences.
We study the adoption and implementation of a new mobile communication app among a sample of 132 New York City public schools. The app provides a platform for sharing general announcements and news as well as engaging in personalized two-way communication with individual parents. We provide participating schools with free access to the app and randomize schools to receive intensive support (training, guidance, monitoring, and encouragement) for maximizing the efficacy of the app. Although user supports led to higher levels of communication within the app in the treatment year, overall usage remained low and declined in the following year when treatment schools no longer received intensive supports. We find few subsequent effects on perceptions of communication quality or student outcomes. We leverage rich internal user data to explore how take-up and usage patterns varied across staff and school characteristics. These analyses help to identify early adopters and reluctant users, revealing both opportunities and obstacles to engaging parents through new communication technology.
This article takes stock of where the field of behavioral science applied to education policy seems to be at, which avenues seem promising and which ones seem like dead ends. I present a curated set of studies rather than an exhaustive literature review, categorizing interventions by whether they nudge (keep options intact) or “shove” (restrict choice), and whether they apply a high or low touch (whether they use face-to-face interaction or not). Many recent attempts to test large-scale low touch nudges find precisely estimated null effects, suggesting we should not expect letters, text messages, and online exercises to serve as panaceas for addressing education policy’s key challenges. Programs that impose more choice-limiting structure to a youth’s routine, like mandated tutoring, or programs that nudge parents, appear more promising.
Many educational interventions encourage parents to engage in their child’s education as if parental time and attention is limitless. Sadly, though, it is not. Successfully encouraging certain parental investments may crowd out other productive behaviors. A randomized field experiment (N = 2,212) assessed the impact of an intervention in which parents of middle and high school students received multiple text messages per week encouraging them to ask their children specific questions tied to their science curriculum. The intervention increased parent-child at-home conversations about science but did not detectably impact science test scores. At the same time, the intervention decreased parent engagement in other, potentially productive, behaviors, such as turning off the television or monitoring their child’s studying. These findings illustrate that parent engagement interventions are not costless: there are opportunity costs to shifting parental effort.
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.