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Politics, governance, philanthropy, and organizations

Eric R. Felix, Denisa Gandara, Sosanya Jones.

We used Critical Discourse Analysis to examine the racial discourse within recent attempts to reauthorize the Higher Education Act. Specifically, we interrogated congressional markup hearings to understand how members frame student debt and the racialized dynamics embedded within. Our findings highlight three types of discourse: “All Students” Matter, Paternalistic, Race-Evasive, and Explicit Racial Discourse. We offer recommendations for research and policymaking.

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Brian T. Hamel.
Education spending has been shown to increase student achievement and break the cycle of poverty. I argue, however, that local school board members in the U.S. are electorally incentivized to invest resources in some schools and students more than others. Specifically, I argue that school spending can boost vote shares for incumbent school board members, and that school board members will allocate resources strategically, prioritizing schools located in neighborhoods of their district where spending will maximize their vote share. I test this argument using data from a discretionary school modernization program in the Los Angeles Unified School District, and find that board members distribute resources to schools in competitive and moderately supportive neighborhoods while excluding schools in overwhelmingly opposed and supportive areas. The results suggest that local democratic control of school boards can hinder education equality.

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David M. Houston.

Drawing on 16 years of nationally representative survey data from 2007-2022, I demonstrate that partisan gaps—the average differences in public opinion between Democrats and Republicans—have widened on many education issues. The growth of the partisan gaps consistently exceeds what would be expected due to the changing demographic compositions of the parties alone. In most cases, widening partisan gaps are primarily attributable to sorting (the alignment of one’s party affiliation and one’s issue positions) rather than polarization (increasing support for more extreme positions relative to more moderate positions). However, polarization is also increasing on some of the most divisive issues. Among those who are sorting, individuals are overwhelmingly switching their issues positions to align with their party affiliations rather than switching their party affiliations to align with their issue positions.

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Melissa Arnold Lyon, Joshua Bleiberg, Beth E. Schueler.

A major challenge for states is determining how to support lower levels of government experiencing fiscal or performance challenges without incentivizing future financial mismanagement. Though classical liberal economics tradition argues that decentralization encourages fiscal responsibility, more recent work on fiscal federalism suggests that decentralization could instead encourage fiscal irresponsibility. In this paper, we study one key example of political centralization in the context of public education—state takeovers of local school districts—and its impact on the fiscal condition of the targeted districts. Using event study methods, we find takeovers from 1990 to 2019 increased annual school spending by roughly $2,000 per pupil after five years, leading to improvements in financial condition. Further examination of mechanisms suggests that increased funding was used for employee benefits and debt retirement and came primarily from state sources. The effects on spending were larger when accompanied by accountability mechanisms, and when they occurred in larger districts and districts with higher baseline debt levels. Takeover was less impactful for districts serving higher concentrations of Black students.

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Taylor Odle, Michael Gottfried, Trey Miller, Rodney Andrews.

Despite recent evidence on the benefits of same-race instructor matching in K-12 and higher education, research has yet to document the incidence of same-race matching in the postsecondary sector. That is, how likely are racially minoritized college students to ever experience an instructor of the same race/ethnicity? Using administrative data from Texas on the universe of community college students, we document the rate of same-race matching overall and across racial groups, the courses in which students are more or less likely to match, the types of instructors students most commonly match to, and descriptive differences in course outcomes across matched and unmatched courses. Understanding each of these measures is critical to conceptualize the mechanisms and outcomes of same-race matching and to drive policy action concerning the diversity of the professoriate.

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Ken Ochieng’ Opalo.

Education is one of the most important public goods provided by modern governments. Yet governments worldwide seldom perform well in the sector. This raises the question: why do governments preside over poor education quality? This article answers this question with evidence from Tanzania. Using data from surveys, administrative reports, and policy documents, it analyzes changing goals of education policy and associated impacts on access and learning over time. The main finding is that learn- ing has not always been the goal of schooling in Tanzania. Furthermore, for decades the government rationed access to both primary and secondary schooling for ideological reasons. These past policy choices partially explain contemporary poor outcomes in education. This article increase our understanding of the politics of education in low-income states. It also provides a corrective against the common assumption that governments always seek to maximize the provision of public goods and services for political gain.

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Jilli Jung, Maithreyi Gopalan.

Youth voter turnout remains stubbornly low and unresponsive to civic education. Rigorous evaluations of the adoption of civic tests for high school graduation by some states on youth voter turnout remain limited. We estimate the impact of a recent, state-mandated civics test policy—the Civics Education Initiative (CEI)—on youth voter turnout by exploiting spatial and temporal variation in the adoption of CEI across states. Using nationally-representative data from the 1996-2020 Current Population Survey and a Difference-in-Differences analysis, we find that CEI does not significantly affect youth voter turnout. Our null results, largely insensitive to a variety of alternative specifications and robustness checks, provide evidence regarding the lack of efficacy of civic test policies when it comes to youth voter participation.

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Alvin Christian, Brian Jacob, John D. Singleton.

The COVID-19 pandemic drew new attention to the role of school boards in the U.S. In this paper, we examine school districts' choices of learning modality -- whether and when to offer in-person, virtual, or hybrid instruction -- over the course of the 2020-21 pandemic school year. The analysis takes advantage of granular weekly data on learning mode and COVID-19 cases for Ohio school districts. We show that districts respond on the margin to health risks: all else equal, a marginal increase in new cases reduces the probability that a district offers in-person instruction the next week. Moreover, this negative response is magnified when the district was in-person the prior week and attenuates in magnitude over the school year. These findings are consistent with districts learning from experience about the effect of in-person learning on disease transmission in schools. We also find evidence that districts are influenced by the decisions of their peers.

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Aaron Phipps, Alexander Amaya.

Given the simultaneous rise in time-to-graduation and college GPA, it may be that students reduce their course load to improve their performance. Yet, evidence to date only shows increased course loads increase GPA. We provide a mathematical model showing many unobservable factors -- beyond student ability -- can generate a positive relationship between course load and GPA unless researchers control student schedules. West Point regularly implements the ideal experiment by randomly modifying student schedules with additional training courses. Using 19 years of administrative data, we provide the first causal evidence that taking more courses reduces GPA and increases course failure rates, sometimes substantially.

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Jonathan E. Collins.

The George Floyd Protests of the Summer of 2020 initiated public conversations around the need for antiracist teaching. Yet, over time the discussion evolved into policy debates around the use of Critical Race Theory in civics courses. The rapid transition masked the fact that we know little about Americans' policy preferences. Do Americans support antiracist teaching? What factors best explain support/opposition? How does critical race theory factor in? Using a series of original survey experiments, this study shows that Americans maintain strong support for antiracist teaching, but that support is drastically weakened when curriculum features the term "critical race theory."

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