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Politics, governance, philanthropy, and organizations
The COVID-19 pandemic created enormous challenges for public education. We assess the role of political factors and public health in state and local education decisions, especially the continuation of learning during COVID-19. Using an original dataset of state education policies since the start of the pandemic, we find that governors took the lead on ordering school closures in Spring 2020 but left decisions to districts in the Fall, regardless of partisanship. Partisanship played a much stronger role in local decisions than state decisions. We analyze local district reopening plans and public opinion on reopening in the politically competitive state of Michigan. Partisanship was much more associated with district reopening plans than COVID-19 rates. Republicans in the Michigan public were also far more favorable than were Democrats toward in-person learning. States' decisions to leave reopening plans to their districts opened the way for students’ experiences to be shaped by their area's partisanship.
Political scientists have largely overlooked the democratic challenges inherent in the governance of U.S. public education—despite profound implications for educational delivery and, ultimately, social mobility and economic growth. In this study, we consider whether the interests of adult voters who elect school boards in each community are likely to be aligned with the educational needs of local students. Specifically, we compare voters and students in four states on several policy-relevant dimensions. Using official voter turnout records and rich microtargeting data, we document considerable demographic differences between voters who participate in school board elections and the students attending the schools that boards oversee. These gaps are most pronounced in majority nonwhite jurisdictions and school districts with the largest racial achievement gaps. Our novel analysis provides important context for understanding the political pressures facing school boards and their likely role in perpetuating educational and, ultimately, societal inequality.
We explore how teachers unions affect education production by comparing outcomes between districts allocating new tax revenue amidst collective bargaining negotiations and districts allocating tax revenue well before. Districts facing union pressure increase teacher salaries and benefits, spend down reserves, and experience no student achievement gains. Conversely, districts facing less pressure hire more teachers (instead of increasing compensation) and realize significant student achievement gains. We interpret these results as causal evidence of the negative impact of teacher rent seeking on education production, as the timing of district tax elections relative to collective bargaining appears to be as good as random.
We conduct a comprehensive examination of the causal effect of charter schools on school segregation, using a triple differences design that utilizes between-grade differences in charter expansion within school systems, and an instrumental variable approach that leverages charter school opening event variation. Charter schools increase school segregation for Black, Hispanic, White, and Asian students. The effect is of modest magnitude; segregation would fall 6 percent were charter schools eliminated from the average district. Analysis across varied geographies reveals countervailing forces. In metropolitan areas, charters improve integration between districts, especially in areas with intense school district fragmentation.
Federal policy has both incentivized and supported better use of research evidence by educational leaders. However, the extent to which these leaders are well-positioned to understand foundational principles from research design and statistics, including those that underlie the What Works Clearinghouse ratings of research studies, remains an open question. To investigate educational leaders’ knowledge of these topics, we developed a construct map and items representing key concepts, then conducted surveys containing those items with a small pilot sample (n=178) and a larger nationally representative sample (n=733) of educational leaders. We found that leaders’ knowledge was surprisingly inconsistent across topics. We also found most items were answered correctly by less than half of respondents, with cognitive interviews suggesting that some of those correct answers derived from guessing or test-taking techniques. Our findings identify a roadblock to policymakers’ contention that educational leaders should use research in decision-making.
Philanthropic investment in education has evolved considerably over the past several decades. This paper provides early evidence of another distinct adaptation, which we dub design philanthropy. In contrast to the macro-level structural reforms recently supported by large foundations, design philanthropy seeks to directly influence the instructional core. We describe the broad contours and characteristics of design philanthropy, which employs a centralized management and design system to support a decentralized approach to implementation. Through a case study of one design philanthropy’s reform initiative, we explore how participants experience this emergent process and manage a series of tensions inherent in the approach.
Major philanthropic initiatives that incorporate features of venture-capital practices have become increasingly prominent, particularly in K-12 public education. In this study, we provide empirical evidence on the reach, character, and impact of the Broad Superintendents Academy, a prominent and controversial venture-philanthropic initiative designed to transform leadership in the nation’s largest school districts. Using a novel dataset on all Broad trainees and a linked panel data set of all large school districts over 20 years, we find that Broad superintendents have had extensive reach (e.g., serving nearly 3 million students at their peak). We also show that, within districts that hired Broad trainees, Broad superintendents were 40 percent more likely to be Black than their non-Broad peers, but also had tenures that were 18 percent shorter. Panel-based estimates provide evidence that Broad-trained leaders had no clear effects on several district outcomes such as enrollment, school closures, per-pupil instructional and support-service spending, and student completion rates. However, Broad-trained leaders initiate a trend towards an increased number of charter schools and higher charterschool enrollment.
Patience and risk-taking – two cultural traits that steer intertemporal decision-making – are fundamental to human capital investment decisions. To understand how they contribute to international differences in student achievement, we combine PISA tests with the Global Preference Survey. We find that opposing effects of patience (positive) and risk-taking (negative) together account for two-thirds of the cross-country variation in student achievement. In an identification strategy addressing unobserved residence-country features, we find similar results when assigning migrant students their country-of-origin cultural traits in models with residence-country fixed effects. Associations of culture with family and school inputs suggest that both may act as channels.
Enrollment in higher education has risen dramatically in Latin America, especially in Chile. Yet graduation and persistence rates remain low. One way to improve graduation and persistence is to use data and analytics to identify students at risk of dropout, target interventions, and evaluate interventions’ effectiveness at improving student success. We illustrate the potential of this approach using data from eight Chilean universities. Results show that data available at matriculation are only weakly predictive of persistence, while prediction improves dramatically once data on university grades become available. Some predictors of persistence are under policy control. Financial aid predicts higher persistence, and being denied a first-choice major predicts lower persistence. Student success programs are ineffective at some universities; they are more effective at others, but when effective they often fail to target the highest risk students. Universities should use data regularly and systematically to identify high-risk students, target them with interventions, and evaluate those interventions’ effectiveness.