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Program and policy effects

Adam Altmejd, Andres Barrios-Fernandez, Marin Drlje, Joshua Goodman, Michael Hurwitz, Dejan Kovac, Christine Mulhern, Christopher Neilson, Jonathan Smith.

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.

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Mingyu Chen, Jessica Howell, Jonathan Smith.

The F-1 student visa program brings more educated migrants to the US than any other immigration program, yet student visa applicants face an approximately 27 percent visa refusal rate that varies by time and region. Using data on the universe of SAT takers between 2004 and 2015 matched with college enrollment records, we examine how the anticipated F-1 visa restrictiveness influences US undergraduate enrollment outcomes of international students. Using an instrumental variables approach, we find that a higher anticipated F-1 student visa refusal rate decreases the number of international SAT takers, decreases the probability of sending SAT scores to US colleges, and decreases international student enrollment in the US. The decreases are larger among international students with higher measured academic achievement. We also document the academic achievement of international students and show that over 40 percent of high-scoring international SAT takers do not pursue a US college education. 

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Matthew Kraft.

Researchers commonly interpret effect sizes by applying benchmarks proposed by Cohen over a half century ago. However, effects that are small by Cohen’s standards are large relative to the impacts of most field-based interventions. These benchmarks also fail to consider important differences in study features, program costs, and scalability. In this paper, I present five broad guidelines for interpreting effect sizes that are applicable across the social sciences. I then propose a more structured schema with new empirical benchmarks for interpreting a specific class of studies: causal research on education interventions with standardized achievement outcomes. Together, these tools provide a practical approach for incorporating study features, cost, and scalability into the process of interpreting the policy importance of effect sizes.

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Charles T. Clotfelter, Helen F. Ladd, Calen R. Clifton, Mavzuna Turaeva.

Using detailed administrative data for public schools, we document racial and ethnic segregation at the classroom level in North Carolina, a state that has experienced a sharp increase in Hispanic enrollment. We decompose classroom-level segregation in counties into within-school and between-school components. We find that the within-school component accounted for a sizable share of total segregation in middle schools and high schools. Recognizing its importance could temper the praise for school assignment policies that reduce racial disparities between schools but allow large disparities within them. More generally, we observe between the two components a complementary relationship, with one component tending to be large when the other one is small. Comparing the degree of segregation for the state’s two largest racial/ethnic minority groups, we find that White/Hispanic segregation was more severe than White/Black segregation, particularly within schools. Analyzed as separate administrative units, schools with large shares of Black students tended to have more White/Black segregation across classrooms than schools with smaller shares. Finally, we examine enrollment patterns by course and show that school segregation brings with it differences by race and ethnicity in the courses that students take, with White students more likely to be enrolled in advanced classes.

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Quynh Tien Le, Morgan Polikoff.

Castañeda v. Pickard (1981) mandated that educational programs for emergent bilinguals be tested for program efficacy. Since English language development (ELD) curricular materials are one part of an instructional program, we assess this mandate by examining the effectiveness of ELD materials in Texas. Using local linear matching, we find that schools that do not purchase any ELD curricula have significantly lower English language proficiency scores relative to schools that purchase state-adopted ELD materials. These results are robust across various matching models—inverse probability weights with regression adjustment, kernel matching, and nearest neighbor matching--and a comparative interrupted time series design. There is no significant difference between schools that adopt the two most popular ELD curricula—Rigby On Our Way to English and National Geographic Reach. This study suggests that emergent bilinguals (EBs) who attend schools that have instructional materials that explicitly foreground English language proficiency standards outperform those in schools that do not have such materials.

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Albert Cheng, Paul E. Peterson.

Although qualitative research suggests that school choice and other interventions are more beneficial for moderately disadvantaged than severely deprived students, the subject has barely been explored by quantitative studies with either observational or experimental designs.  We estimate experimentally the impact of a voucher offer on college attainment of poor minority students by household income and parental education. Estimates are obtained from a 1997 private, lottery-based voucher intervention in New York City.  National Student Clearinghouse provided 2017 postsecondary outcomes.  Positive impacts on moderately disadvantaged students do not extend to the severely deprived.

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Zeyu Xu, Ben Backes, Amanda Oliveira, Dan Goldhaber.

This study adds to the currently limited evidence base on the efficacy of interventions targeting non-college-ready high school students by examining the impact of Kentucky’s Targeted Interventions (TI) program. We focus on interventions that students received under TI in the senior year of high school based on their 11th grade ACT test scores. Using difference-in-regression discontinuity and difference-in-difference designs with seven cohorts of 11th grade students, we find that, for an average per-student cost of about $600, TI significantly reduces the likelihood that students enroll in remedial course in both 2- and 4-year postsecondary institutions by 5–10 percentage points in math and 3–4 percentage points in English. These effects are similar among students who are eligible for free-or reduced-price lunch, Black and Hispanic students, students with remediation needs in multiple subjects, and students in lower-performing schools. Evidence also shows that TI increases the likelihood that students enroll in and pass college math before the end of the first year by four percentage points in 4-year universities. However, little evidence exists for TI affecting credit accumulation or persistence.

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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 people 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 do appear to create safer schools through a reduction in 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 declines in attendance and test scores. Revealed racial bias in principal disciplinary decisions incurs additional negative consequences specific to Black and Hispanic students.

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Jing Liu, Susanna Loeb, Ying Shi.

Classroom teachers in the US are absent on average approximately six percent of a school year. Despite the prevalence of teacher absences, surprisingly little research has assessed the key source of replacement instruction: substitute teachers. Using detailed administrative and survey data from a large urban school district, we document the prevalence, predictors, and variation of substitute coverage across schools. Less advantaged schools systematically exhibit lower rates of substitute coverage compared with peer institutions. Observed school, teacher, and absence characteristics account for only part of this school variation. In contrast, substitute teachers’ preferences for specific schools, mainly driven by student behavior and support from teachers and school administrators, explain a sizable share of the unequal distribution of coverage rates above and beyond standard measures in administrative data.

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Michael Gilraine.

This paper identifies the achievement impact of installing air filters in classrooms for the first time. To do so, I leverage a unique setting arising from the largest gas leak in United States history, whereby the offending gas company installed air filters in every classroom, office and common area for all schools within five miles of the leak (but not beyond). This variation allows me to compare student achievement in schools receiving air filters relative to those that did not using a spatial regression discontinuity design. I find substantial improvements in student achievement: air filter exposure led to a 0.20 standard deviation increase in mathematics and English scores, with test score improvements persisting into the following year. Air testing conducted inside schools during the leak (but before air filters were installed) showed no presence of natural gas pollutants, implying that the effectiveness of air filters came from removing common air pollutants and so these results should extend to other settings. The results indicate that air filter installation is a highly cost-effective policy to raise student achievement and, given that underprivileged students attend schools in highly polluted areas, one that can reduce the pervasive test score gaps that plague public education.

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