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Parents and communities
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.
Food routines play a special role in Latino families. Using a cluster randomized trial with 248 children (M age = 67 months) from 13 schools, this study investigated the impact of a four-week family program designed to capitalize on food routines in improving Latino kindergarteners’ outcomes in the U.S. There were moderate-to-large impacts on child vocabulary (especially food-related) at end-of-treatment and the five-month follow-up, and suggestive evidence of moderate impacts on approaches to learning (including approaches to learning math) and executive function at the five-month follow-up. There were no statistically significant impacts on children’s math or literacy skills. A strengths-based, culturally responsive family intervention that is integrated into Latino family life can improve critical skills needed to succeed in school.
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.
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.
Family and social networks are widely believed to influence important life decisions but identifying their causal effects is notoriously difficult. Using admissions thresholds that directly affect older but not younger siblings’ college options, we present evidence from the United States, Chile, Sweden and Croatia that older siblings’ college and major choices can significantly influence their younger siblings’ college and major choices. On the extensive margin, an older sibling’s enrollment in a better college increases a younger sibling’s probability of enrolling in college at all, especially for families with low predicted probabilities of enrollment. On the intensive margin, an older sibling’s choice of college or major increases the probability that a younger sibling applies to and enrolls in that same college or major. Spillovers in major choice are stronger when older siblings enroll and succeed in more selective and higher-earning majors. The observed spillovers are not well-explained by price, income, proximity or legacy effects, but are most consistent with older siblings transmitting otherwise unavailable information about the college experience and its potential returns. The importance of such personally salient information may partly explain persistent differences in college-going rates by geography, income, and other determinants of social networks.