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Program and policy effects
We show that grit, a skill that has been shown to be highly predictive of achievement, is malleable in childhood and can be fostered in the classroom environment. We evaluate a randomized educational intervention implemented in two independent elementary school samples. Outcomes are measured via a novel incentivized real effort task and performance in standardized tests. We find that treated students are more likely to exert effort to accumulate task-specific ability, and hence, more likely to succeed. In a follow up 2.5 years after the intervention, we estimate an effect of about 0.2 standard deviations on a standardized math test.
We examine the effects of a comprehensive college transition program (CCTP) on four psychosocial outcomes associated with postsecondary success: sense of belonging, mattering, and academic and social self-efficacy. The CCTP operates on three four-year campuses and includes a range of supports, including shared academic courses, peer mentoring, and residential or common community spaces. We leverage the randomization of Angrist et al. (2014), but restrict our comparison to scholarship recipients with and without CCTP exposure. To account for differential attrition from the experimental sample, we rely on a “selection on observables” assumption for our primary analysis. Results suggest that the program significantly and substantially increased students’ sense of belonging and mattering, but had no effect on academic or social self-efficacy.
Despite large schooling and learning gains in many developing countries, children in highly deprived areas are often unlikely to achieve even basic literacy and numeracy. We study how much of this problem can be resolved using a multi-pronged intervention combining several distinct interventions known to be effective in isolation. We conducted a cluster-randomized trial in The Gambia evaluating a literacy and numeracy intervention designed for primary-aged children in remote parts of poor countries. The intervention combines para teachers delivering after-school supplementary classes, scripted lesson plans, and frequent monitoring focusing on improving teacher practice (coaching). A similar intervention previously demonstrated large learning gains in a cluster-randomized trial in rural India. After three academic years, Gambian children receiving the intervention scored 46 percentage points (3.2 SD) better on a combined literacy and numeracy test than control children. This intervention holds great promise to address low learning levels in other poor, remote settings.
While the importance of social-emotional learning for student success is well established, educators and researchers have less knowledge and agreement about which social-emotional skills are most important for students and how these skills distribute across student subgroups. Using a rich longitudinal dataset of 221,840 fourth through seventh grade students in California districts, this paper describes growth mindset gaps across student groups, and confirms, at a large scale, the predictive power of growth mindset for achievement gains, even with unusually rich controls for students’ background, previous achievement, and measures of other social-emotional skills. Average annual growth in English language arts and math corresponding to differences between students with fixed and growth mindset in a same school and grade level is 0.07 and 0.05 standard deviations respectively, after adjusting for students’ characteristics and previous achievement. This estimate is equivalent to 48 and 35 additional days of learning.
This paper provides the first causal evidence on the impact of college advisor quality on student outcomes. To do so, we exploit a unique setting where students are randomly assigned to faculty advisors during their first year of college. We find that higher advisor value-added (VA) substantially improves freshman year GPA, time to complete freshman year and four-year graduation rates. Additionally, higher advisor VA increases high-ability students’ likelihood of enrolling and graduating with a STEM degree. Our results indicate that allocating resources towards improving the quality of academic advising may play a key role in promoting college success.
Children routinely benefit from being assigned a teacher who shares an identity with them, such as gender or ethnicity. We study how student beliefs impact teacher-student gender match effects, and how this varies across subjects with different societal beliefs about differential ability by gender. A simple model of belief formation predicts that match effects will be larger for students who believe they are of low ability, and be greater in subjects with more salient societal beliefs. We test these using data from Chinese middle schools, exploiting random assignment of students to teachers. In China, many people believe boys are innately better than girls at math. We find that being assigned a female math teacher helps low-perceived-ability girls and slightly harms low-perceived-ability boys, with no effects for other children. In English and Chinese – subjects with less salient societal beliefs – these patterns persist but diminish. This yields policy implications for the assignment of teachers to students.
Over 13 percent of US students participate in Special Education (SE) programs annually, at a cost of $40 billion. However, the effect of SE placements remains unclear. This paper uses administrative data from Texas to examine the long-run effect of reducing SE access. Our research design exploits variation in SE placement driven by a state policy that required school districts to reduce SE caseloads to 8.5 percent. We show that this policy led to sharp reductions in SE enrollment. These reductions in SE access generated significant reductions in educational attainment, suggesting that marginal participants experience long-run benefits from SE services.
Access to private schools and public charter schools might improve parent and student satisfaction through competitive pressures and improved matches between educators and students. Using a nationally representative sample of 13,436 students in the United States in 2016, I find that public charter schools and private schools outperform traditional public schools on six measures of parent and student satisfaction. Respondents with children in private schools also tend to report higher levels of satisfaction than respondents with children in public charter schools. The results are robust to various analytic techniques and specifications.
The My Brother’s Keeper (MBK) Challenge developed by President Obama supports communities that promote civic initiatives designed to improve the educational and economic opportunities specifically for young men of color. In Oakland, California, the MBK educational initiative features the African American Male Achievement (AAMA) program. The AAMA focuses on regularly scheduled classes exclusively for Black, male students and taught by Black, male teachers who focus on social-emotional training, African-American history, culturally relevant pedagogy, and academic supports. In this study, we present quasi-experimental evidence on the dropout effects of the AAMA by leveraging its staggered scale-up across high schools in the Oakland Unified School District (OUSD). We find that AAMA availability led to a significant reduction in the number of Black males who dropped out as well as smaller reductions among Black females, particularly in 9th grade.