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Program and policy effects

Briana Ballis, Katelyn Heath.

Black students are about 1.5 times more likely to be receiving special education (SpEd) services relative to white students. While there is concern that this implies some black students are inappropriately placed in SpEd, the impacts of the disproportionate representation of minority students in SpEd remains unclear. Using administrative data from Texas, we find that capping black disproportionality led to small gains in high school completion and college attainment for black students in special and general education. Overall, our results suggest that reductions in SpEd misclassification among black students may serve to reduce gaps in later-life success across race.

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Rajeev Darolia, Andrew Sullivan.

There is no national consensus on how school districts calculate high school achievement disparities between students who experience homelessness and those who do not. Using administrative student-level data from a mid-sized public school district in the Southern United States, we show that commonly used ways of defining which students are considered homeless can yield markedly different estimates of the homelessness-housed student high school graduation gap. The key distinctions among homelessness definitions relate to how to classify homeless students who become housed and how to consider students who transfer out of the district or drop out of school. Eliminating housing insecurity-related achievement disparities necessitates understanding the link between homelessness and educational achievement; how districts quantify homelessness affects measured gaps.

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Dylan Lukes, Christopher Cleveland.

Between 1935-1940 the Home Owners' Loan Corporation (HOLC) assigned A (minimal risk) to D (hazardous) grades to neighborhoods that reflected their "mortgage security" and visualized these grades on color-coded maps used by banks and other mortgage lenders to provide or deny home loans within residential neighborhoods. In this study, we leverage a spatial analysis of 144 HOLC-graded core-based statistical areas (CBSAs) to understand how historic HOLC maps relate to current patterns of school funding, racial diversity, and performance. We find districts and schools located today in historically redlined neighborhoods have less district-level per-pupil revenues, larger shares of Black and non-White student bodies, less diverse student populations, and worse average test scores relative to those located in A, B, and C neighborhoods. These nationwide results are consistent by region and when controlling for CBSA. Finally, we document a persistence in these patterns across time, with overall positive time trends regardless of HOLC grade but widening gaps between D vs. A, B, and C outcomes. These findings suggest that education policymakers need to consider the historical implications of redlining and past neighborhood inequality on neighborhoods today when designing modern interventions focused on improving life outcomes of students of color.

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Stephanie Riegg Cellini, Hernando Grueso.

We draw on administrative data from the country of Colombia to assess differences in student learning in online and traditional on-campus college programs. The Colombian context is uniquely suited to study this topic, as students take an exit examination at the end of their studies. We can therefore directly compare performance on the exit exam for students in online and on-campus programs both across and within institutions, degrees, and majors. Using inverse probability weighting methods based on a rich set of background characteristics coupled with institution-degree-major fixed effects, our results suggest that bachelor’s degree students in online programs perform worse on nearly all test score measures (including math, reading, writing, and English) relative to their counterparts in on-campus programs. Results for shorter technical certificates are more mixed.  While online students perform significantly worse than on-campus students on exit exams in private institutions, they perform better in SENA—the main public vocational institution in the country.

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Jing Liu, Monica Lee, Seth Gershenson.
We provide novel evidence on the causal impacts of student absences in middle and high school on state test scores, course grades, and educational attainment using a rich administrative dataset that tracks the date and class period of each absence. We use two similar but distinct identification strategies that address potential endogeneity due to time-varying student-level shocks by exploiting within-student, between-subject variation in class-specific absences. We also leverage information on the timing of absences to show that absences that occur after the annual window for state standardized testing do not affect test scores, providing a further check of our identification strategy. Both approaches yield similar results. We nd that absences in middle and high school harm contemporaneous student achievement and longer-term educational attainment: On average, missing 10 classes reduces math or English Language Arts test scores by 3-4% of a standard deviation and course grades by 17-18% of a standard deviation. 10 total absences across all subjects in 9th grade reduce both the probability of on-time graduation and ever enrolling in college by 2%. Learning loss due to school absences can have profound economic and social consequences.

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Melissa Arnold Lyon.

Although the Janus v. AFCSME (2018) decision fundamentally changed the institutional context for U.S. teachers’ unions by placing all public school teachers in a “Right to Work” (RTW) framework, little research exists to conceptualize the effects of such policies that hinder unionization. To fill this gap, I exploit the different timing across states in the passage of RTW policies in a differences-in-differences framework to identify how exposure to a RTW policy affects students, teachers, and education policymaking. I find that RTW policies lead to declines in teachers’ union power, but contrary to what many union critics have argued, I find that efforts to weaken unions did not result in political opportunities for education reforms nor did they improve student achievement outcomes.

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Rachel Baker, Elizabeth Friedmann, Michal Kurlaender.

The transfer between two-year and four-year colleges is a critical path to baccalaureate attainment. Yet, students face a number of barriers in transfer pathways, including a lack of coherent coordination and articulation between their community colleges and four-year institutions, resulting in excess units and increased time to degree. In this paper we evaluate the impact of California’s Student Transfer Achievement Reform Act, which aimed to create a more seamless pathway between the Community Colleges and the California State University. We investigate whether the reform effort met its intended goal of improving baccalaureate receipt, and greater efficiency in earning these degrees, among community college transfer students. We tease out plausibly causal effects of the policy by leveraging the exogenous variation in the timing of the implementation of the reform in different campuses and fields of study. We find that this reform effort has led to significant reductions in time to baccalaureate receipt among community college transfers and reduced total unit accumulation. These positive effects were shared across all student subgroups.

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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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Helen F. Ladd, Edward B. Fiske.

Because of the many special characteristics of charter schools, policy makers who aim to promote a system of charters schools that ensures fair access to, and fair treatment of, disadvantaged students will need a public accountability system oriented, at least in part, to equity concerns. Massachusetts, with its single statewide authorizer, as well as its system of periodic site visits to schools and specific performance criteria, illustrates such a system. In this paper, we first explain why an equity-oriented approach is important. We then describe and evaluate the Massachusetts approach, with particular attention to the information provided by the periodic site visits. Although Massachusetts does not fully succeed with all its charter schools, especially with respect to fair treatment, it is hard to make the case that charter schools will be beneficial for disadvantaged students in the absence of an accountability system of this type.

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