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Program and policy effects

Robert C. Carr, Tyler Watts, Jade M. Jenkins, Yu Bai, Ellen S. Peisner-Feinberg, Clara G. Muschkin, Helen F. Ladd, Kenneth A. Dodge.

Prior research has found that financial investments in North Carolina’s pre-kindergarten (pre-K) program generated positive effects on student reading and math achievement through eighth grade (Bai et al., 2020). The current study examined the interaction between NC Pre-K funding and two key dimensions of the subsequent educational environment students experience in their school districts: average achievement and achievement growth. In relation to student reading and math achievement in eighth grade, the benefits of NC Pre-K funding were found to be additive to the benefits of school-district average achievement. The benefits of NC Pre-K funding were also found to interact with the benefits of school-district achievement growth such that the NC Pre-K effect was larger in school districts with lower rates of growth in academic achievement. These findings suggest that public investments in early childhood education may be particularly beneficial in the long term for children who subsequently experience low-growth schooling environments compared to children in high-growth environments.

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Dorottya Demszky, Jing Liu, Heather C. Hill, Dan Jurafsky, Chris Piech.

Providing consistent, individualized feedback to teachers is essential for improving instruction but can be prohibitively resource intensive in most educational contexts. We develop an automated tool based on natural language processing to give teachers feedback on their uptake of student contributions, a high-leverage teaching practice that supports dialogic instruction and makes students feel heard. We conduct a randomized controlled trial as part of an online computer science course, Code in Place (n=1,136 instructors), to evaluate the effectiveness of the feedback tool. We find that the tool improves instructors’ uptake of student contributions by 27% and present suggestive evidence that our tool also improves students’ satisfaction with the course and assignment completion. These results demonstrate the promise of our tool to complement existing efforts in teachers’ professional development.

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Veronica Minaya, Judith Scott-Clayton, Rachel Yang Zhou.

Graduate education is among the fastest growing segments of the U.S. higher educational system. This paper provides up-to-date causal evidence on labor market returns to Master’s degrees and examines heterogeneity in the returns by field area, student demographics and initial labor market conditions. We use rich administrative data from Ohio and an individual fixed effects model that compares students’ earnings trajectories before and after earning a Master’s degree. Findings show that obtaining a Master’s degree increased quarterly earnings by about 12% on average, but the returns vary largely across graduate fields. We also find gender and racial disparities in the returns, with higher average returns for women than for men, and for White than for Black graduates. In addition, by comparing returns among students who graduated before and under the Great Recession, we show that economic downturns appear to reduce but not eliminate the positive returns to Master’s degrees.

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D'Wayne Bell, Jing Feng, John Holbein, Jonathan Smith.

For decades, pundits, politicians, college administrators, and academics have lamented the dismal rates of civic engagement among students who enroll in courses and eventually major in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (i.e., STEM) fields. However, the research supporting this conclusion has faced distinct challenges in terms of data quality. Does STEM actually decrease the odds that young people will be actively involved in democracy? This paper assesses the relationship between studying STEM and voting.  To do so, we create a dataset of over 23 million students in the U.S. matched to national validated voting records.  The novel dataset is the largest known individual-level dataset in the U.S. connecting high school and college students to voting outcomes.  It also contains a rich set of demographic and academic variables, to account for many of the common issues related to students' selection into STEM coursework. We consider two measures of STEM participation ---Advanced Placement (AP) Exam taking in high school and college major. Using both measures, we find that, unconditionally, STEM students are slightly more likely to vote than their non-STEM peers.  After including the rich set of controls, the sign reverses and STEM students are slightly less likely to vote than their non-STEM peers. However, these estimated relationships between STEM and voting are small in magnitude---about the same effect size as a single get-out-the-vote mailer---and we can rule out even very modest causal effects of marginally more STEM coursework on voting for the typical STEM student.  We cannot rule out modest effects for a few subfields. Our analyses demonstrate that, on average, marginally more STEM coursework in high school and college does not contribute to the dismally low participation rates among young people in the U.S.

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John Papay, Ann Mantil, Richard J. Murnane.

Many states use high-school exit examinations to assess students’ career and college readiness in core subjects. We find meaningful consequences of barely passing the mathematics examination in Massachusetts, as opposed to just failing it. However, these impacts operate at different educational attainment margins for low-income and higher-income students. As in previous work, we find that barely passing increases the probability of graduating from high school for low-income (particularly urban low-income) students, but not for higher-income students. However, this pattern is reversed for 4-year college graduation. For higher-income students only, just passing the examination increases the probability of completing a 4-year college degree by 2.1 percentage points, a sizable effect given that only 13% of these students near the cutoff graduate.

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Jordan S. Berne.

Nearly all studies of preschool’s long-run effects examine means-tested programs; little is known about the long-run effects of universal programs. A number of key differences—including population served, scale, and counterfactual options—may cause universal programs to have different effects than previously studied means-tested programs. Using a difference-in-differences framework, I estimate the effects of Georgia’s first-in-the-nation statewide universal pre-K program on adult educational attainment and employment. The program made children 4.5 percent more likely to graduate from high school and 13.7 percent more likely to obtain a bachelor’s degree (although the latter effect is imprecise). I find similar results in a supplemental analysis that uses the synthetic control method. I find no effects on associate degree attainment or employment.

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Hernando Grueso.

In this paper, I study the causal relationship between violence and human capital accumulation. Due to a power vacuum left in conflict zones of Colombia after the 2016 peace agreement, large spikes in violence were reported in the municipalities of the country dominated by the rebel group FARC. I compare student test scores in municipalities that experienced the increase in violence to the ones that did not, before and after the national peace agreement. I find that a 10 percent increase in the homicide rate reduces average high school test scores by approximately 0.03 standard deviations. However, this impact is greater in the case of poor students who suffered a reduction of about 0.1 standard deviations per subject area, equivalent to 3.3 percentage points out of the final score. I also consider heterogeneity by gender finding a slightly larger negative impact on female students. This disparate effect on women and on the poorest students adds new evidence to the literature on the effects of armed conflict on learning outcomes.

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Lucy C. Sorensen, Montserrat Avila Acosta, John Engberg, Shawn D. Bushway.
U.S. public school students increasingly attend schools with sworn law enforcement officers present. Yet, little is known about how these school resource officers (SROs) affect school environments or student outcomes. Our study uses a fuzzy regression discontinuity (RD) design with national school-level data from 2014 to 2018 to estimate the impacts of SRO placement. We construct this discontinuity based on the application scores for federal school based policing grants of linked police agencies. We find that SROs effectively reduce some forms of violence in schools, but do not prevent gun-related incidents. We also find that SROs intensify the use of suspension, expulsion, police referral, and arrest of students. These increases in disciplinary and police actions are consistently largest for Black students, male students, and students with disabilities.

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Jing Liu, Emily Penner, Wenjing Gao.

Teachers' sense-making of student behavior determines whether students get in trouble and are formally disciplined. Status categories, such as race, can influence perceptions of student culpability, but the degree to which this contributes to racial disproportionality in discipline receipt is unknown. This study provides the  first systematic documentation of teachers' use office discipline referrals (ODRs) in a large, diverse urban school district in California that specifies the identity of both the referred and referring individuals in all ODRs. We identify teachers exhibiting extensive referral behavior, or the top 5% referrers based on the number of ODRs they make in a given year and evaluate their contributions to disciplinary disparities. We find that "top referrers" effectively double the racial gaps in ODRs for both Black-White and Hispanic-White comparisons. These gaps are mainly driven by higher numbers of ODRs issued for Black and Hispanic students due to interpersonal offences and defiance, and also partially convert to racial gaps in suspensions. Both the level and racial compositions of the school sites where "top referrers" serve and their personal traits seem to explain some of their frequent referring behavior. Targeting supports and interventions to "top referrers" might afford an important opportunity to reduce racial disciplinary gaps.

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Serena Canaan, Stefanie Fischer, Pierre Mouganie, Geoffrey C. Schnorr.

To boost college graduation rates, policymakers often advocate for academic supports such as coaching or mentoring. Proactive and intensive coaching interventions are effective, but are costly and difficult to scale. We evaluate a relatively lower-cost group coaching program targeted at first-year college students placed on academic probation. Participants attend a workshop where coaches aim to normalize failure and improve self-confidence. Coaches also facilitate a process whereby participants reflect on their academic difficulties, devise solutions to address their challenges, and create an action plan. Participants then hold a one-time follow-up meeting with their coach or visit a campus resource. Using a difference-in-discontinuity design, we show that the program raises students’ first-year GPA by 14.6% of a standard deviation, and decreases the probability of first-year dropout by 8.5 percentage points. Effects are concentrated among lower-income students who also experience a significant increase in the probability of graduating. Finally, using administrative data we provide the first evidence that coaching/mentoring may have substantial long-run effects as we document significant gains in lower-income students’ earnings 7–9 years following entry to the university. Our findings indicate that targeted, group coaching can be an effective way to improve marginal students’ academic and early career outcomes.

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