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Standards, accountability, assessment, and curriculum
Turnaround schools and districts that were charged with making rapid and dramatic improvements before the COVID-19 pandemic struck faced considerable challenges carrying out improvement efforts during pandemic schooling. Using survey and administrative data collected during the pandemic, we document some of the ways in which students and educators in Michigan’s turnaround schools and districts experienced the pandemic. We show that the communities in which turnaround schools are located were hardest hit by the pandemic and school and district operations were substantially disrupted. By extension, turnaround districts and especially the lowest performing schools in those districts that were targeted for school-level turnaround experienced high rates of student absenteeism, low student and parent engagement, and, ultimately, significantly smaller gains on math and reading benchmark assessments than in non-turnaround districts. Our findings have implications for policy as states amplify school and district turnaround efforts that were disrupted by the pandemic.
School climate is critical to school effectiveness, but there is limited large-scale data available to examine the magnitude and nature of the relationship between school climate and school improvement. Drawing on statewide administrative data linked with unique teacher survey data in Michigan, we examine whether school climate appeared to play a role in the effects of a state-level school turnaround intervention. Using comparative interrupted time series models and descriptive mediation analysis, we find that students in schools with more positive school climate appeared to fare better than their peers in schools with less positive climate. Certain elements of climate—relational trust and school leadership—also mediated the effect of turnaround on student achievement. Our findings have implications for school improvement planning, for the design of evaluations of school turnaround initiatives, and for data collection by states aiming to improve their lowest performing schools.
The Core Knowledge curriculum is a K-8 curriculum focused on building students General Knowledge about the world they live in that is hypothesized to increase reading comprehension and Reading/English-LA achievement. This study utilizes an experimental design to evaluate the long term effects of attending Charter schools teaching the Core Knowledge curriculum. Fourteen oversubscribed kindergarten lotteries for enrollment in nine Core Knowledge Charter schools using the curriculum had 2310 students applying from parents in predominately middle/high income school districts. State achievement data was collected at 3rd- 6th grade in Reading/English-LA and Mathematics and at 5th Grade in Science. A new methodology addresses two previously undiscovered sources of bias inherent in kindergarten lotteries that include middle/high income families. The unbiased confirmatory Reading-English-LA results show statistically significant ITT (0.241***) and TOT (0.473***) effects for 3rd-6th grade achievement with statistically significant ITT and TOT effects at each grade. Exploratory analyses also showed significant ITT (0.15*) and TOT (0.300*) unbiased effects at 5th grade in Science. A CK-Charter school in a low income school district also had statistically significant, moderate to large unbiased ITT and TOT effects in English Language Arts (ITT= 0.944**; TOT = 1.299**), Mathematics (ITT= 0.735*; TOT = 0.997*) and positive, but insignificant Science effects (ITT= 0.468; TOT = 0.622) that eliminated achievement gaps in all subjects.
Four-day school weeks are becoming increasingly common in the United States, but their effect on students’ achievement is not well-understood. The small body of existing research suggests the four-day schedule has relatively small, negative average effects (~-0.02 to -0.09 SD) on annual, standardized state test scores in math and reading, but these studies include only a single state or are limited by using district-level data. We conduct the first multi-state, student-level analysis that estimates the effect of four-day school weeks on student achievement and a more proximal measure of within-year growth using NWEA MAP Growth assessment data. We conduct difference-in-differences analyses to estimate the effect of attending a four-day week school relative to attending a five-day week school. We estimate significant negative effects of the schedule on spring reading achievement (-0.07 SD) and fall-to-spring achievement gains in math and reading (-0.06 SD in both). The negative effects of the schedule are disproportionately larger in non-rural schools than rural schools and for female students, and they may grow over time. Policymakers and practitioners will need to weigh the policy’s demonstrated negative average effects on achievement in their decisions regarding how and if to implement a four-day week.
Public policies often target individuals but within-family externalities of such interventions are understudied. Using a regression discontinuity design, we document how a third grade retention policy affects both the target children and their younger siblings. The policy improves test scores of both children while the spillover is up to 30% of the target child effect size. The effects are particularly pronounced in families where one of the children is disabled, for boys, and in immigrant families. Candidate mechanisms include improved classroom inputs and parental school choice.
Panel or grouped data are often used to allow for unobserved individual heterogeneity in econometric models via fixed effects. In this paper, we discuss identification of a panel data model in which the unobserved heterogeneity both enters additively and interacts with treatment variables. We present identification and estimation methods for parameters of interest in this model under both strict and weak exogeneity assumptions. The key identification insight is that other periods' treatment variables are instruments for the unobserved fixed effects. We apply our proposed estimator to matched student-teacher data used to estimate value-added models of teacher quality. We show that the common assumption that the return to unobserved teacher quality is the same for all students is rejected by the data. We also present evidence that No Child Left Behind-era school accountability increased the effectiveness of teacher quality for lower performing students.
Given the importance of early literacy to long-term student success, by 2021, 41 states and the District of Columbia adopted early literacy policies to improve student literacy by the end of third grade. We use an event-study approach to examine the impact of these policies on high- and low-stakes test scores. Our results suggest that adopting an early literacy policy improves elementary students’ reading achievement on high-stakes assessments, particularly in third grade and in states with comprehensive early literacy policies and third-grade retention requirements. We also find suggestive evidence that early literacy policies reduce socioeconomic and racial high-stakes achievement gaps in reading and have positive spillover effects on math achievement. However, we find little evidence of significant gains in low-stakes test scores except in states with comprehensive policies. Our findings highlight the importance of content and incentives for early literacy policies.
The COVID-19 pandemic resulted in substantial unfinished learning for U.S. students, but to differing degrees for various subgroups. For example, students of color, from low-income families, or who attended high-poverty schools experienced greater unfinished learning. In this study we examined the degree of unfinished learning for students who went into the pandemic scoring in the top or bottom 10% in the math or reading achievement distributions. Our results show that students who scored at or below the 10th percentile grew less during the pandemic than their similarly-scoring, pre-COVID peers and, as of the end of the 2021 – 2021 school year, had yet to rebound toward pre-COVID levels of growth or achievement. Conversely, students who scored at or above the 90th percentile largely grew at rates closer to their pre-COVID peers. These students were harmed less academically and have recovered more quickly than their peers scoring at or below the 10th percentile.
The debate on the stringency of licensure exams for prospective public school teachers is on-going, including the recent controversial roll-out of the educative Teacher Performance Assessment (edTPA). We leverage the quasi-experimental setting of different adoption timing by states and analyze multiple data sources containing a national sample of prospective teachers and students of new teachers in the US. With extensive controls of concurrent policies, we find that the edTPA reduced prospective teachers in undergraduate programs, less-selective and minority-concentrated universities. Contrary to the policy intention, we do not find evidence that edTPA increased student test scores.
Challenging the conventional wisdom that the spread of democracy was a leading driver of the expansion of primary schooling, recent studies show that democratization in fact did not lead to an average increase in primary school enrollment rates. One reason for this null effect is that there was already considerable provision of primary education before democratization. Still, it is possible that the spread of democracy did impact other aspects of education systems, such as the content of education and the extent to which teaching jobs are politicized. Studying this possibility cross-nationally has been infeasible due to data limitations. To address this gap, we take advantage of an original dataset covering 160 countries from 1945 to 2021 that contains information about these aspects of education. We document that transitions to democracy tend to be preceded by a decline in the politicization of both education content and teaching jobs. However, soon after democratization occurs, this decline usually halts. Counterfactual estimates suggest that democratization roughly halves the degree to which teacher hiring and firing decisions are politicized, but has a smaller impact on the content of education. The empirical patterns that we uncover have important implications for future research.