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Standards, accountability, assessment, and curriculum
In contrast to prior federally mandated school reforms, the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) allows states more discretion in reforming their lowest performing schools, removes requirements to disrupt the status quo, and does not allocate substantial additional funds. Using a regression discontinuity design, we evaluate a state turnaround initiative aligned with ESSA requirements. We find the effect on student test score growth was not significant in year one and -0.13 in year two. Also in year two, we find that teachers in turnaround schools were 22.5 percentage points more likely to turn over. Teacher turnover appears to have been voluntary rather than the result of strategic staffing decisions.
Research has begun to investigate whether teachers and schools are as effective with certain student subgroups as they are with the overall student population. Most of this research has examined the issue by trying to produce causal estimates of school contributions to short-term student growth (usually using value-added models) and has emphasized rank orderings of schools by subgroup. However, not much is known about whether schools contributing to long-term growth for all students are also contributing to student growth by subgroup in ways that might close achievement gaps. In this study, schools’ contributions to student growth are estimated separately for Black versus White students. Results show that focusing on rank orderings of schools alone can mask troubling trends in relative achievement over time. Options for how policymakers can sensibly hold schools accountable for student growth, including under The Every Student Succeeds Act, are discussed.
While school choice may enhance competition, incentives for public schools to raise productivity may be muted if public education is viewed as imperfectly substitutable with alternatives. This paper estimates the aggregate effect of charter school expansion on education quality while accounting for the horizontal differentiation of charter school programs. To do so, we combine student-level administrative data with novel information about the educational programs of charter schools that opened in North Carolina following the removal of the statewide cap in 2011. The dataset contains students' standardized test scores as well as geocoded residential addresses, which allow us to compare the test score changes of students who lived near the new charters prior to the policy change with those for students who lived farther away. We apply this research design to estimate separate treatment effects for exposure to charter schools that are and are not differentiated horizontally from public school instruction. The results indicate learning gains for treated students that are driven entirely by non-horizontally differentiated charter schools: we find that non-horizontally differentiated charter school expansion causes a 0.05 SD increase in math scores. These learning gains are driven by public schools responding to increased competition.
College completion rates declined from the 1970s to the 1990s. We document that this trend has reversed--since the 1990s, college completion rates have increased. We investigate the reasons for the increase in college graduation rates. Collectively, student characteristics, institutional resources, and institution attended do not explain much of the change. However, we document that standards for degree receipt may explain some of the change in graduation rates.
Although program evaluations using rigorous quasi-experimental or experimental designs can inform decisions about whether to continue or terminate a given program, they often have limited ability to reveal the mechanisms by which complex interventions achieve their effects. To illuminate these mechanisms, this paper analyzes novel text data from thousands of school improvement planning and implementation reports from Washington State, deploying computer-assisted techniques to extract measures of school improvement processes. Our analysis identified 15 coherent reform strategies that varied greatly across schools and over time. The prevalence of identified reform strategies was largely consistent with school leaders’ own perceptions of reform priorities via interviews. Several reform strategies measures were significantly associated with reductions in student chronic absenteeism and improvements in student achievement. We lastly discuss the opportunities and pitfalls of using novel text data to study reform processes.
Textbooks are a widely used educational intervention that can affect student achievement, and the marginal cost of choosing a more effective textbook is typically small. However, we know little about how textbooks get from the publisher to the classroom. We use a lens of institutional theory and interviews with district leaders in a stratified random sample of 34 California school districts to investigate the ways mathematics textbook adoption practices vary and predict adoption decisions. We find isomorphic, highly formalized adoption processes in most districts. However, we observe some differences along dimensions of district size, technological interest/infrastructure, and English learner concentration. We recommend states produce and update lists of high quality materials early and often, and that they use a highly rigorous evaluation process. We also recommend states experiment with encouraging similar districts to partner on textbook evaluation and adoption to respond to district demands for information and capacity building around curricula.
The rise of accountability standards has pressed higher education organizations to oversee the production and publication of data on student outcomes more closely than in the past. However, the most common measure of student outcomes, average bachelor's degree completion rates, potentially provides little information about the direct impacts of colleges and universities on student success. Extending scholarship in the new institutionalist tradition, I hypothesize that higher education organizations today exist as, “superficially coupled systems,” where colleges closely oversee their technical outputs but where those technical outputs provide limited insight into the direct role of colleges and universities in producing them. I test this hypothesis using administrative data from the largest, public, urban university system in the United States together with fixed effects regression and entropy balancing techniques, allowing me to isolate organizational effects. My results provide evidence for superficial coupling, suggesting that inequality in college effectiveness exists both between colleges and within colleges, given students' racial background and family income. They also indicate that institutionalized norms surrounding accountability have backfired, enabling higher education organizations, and other bureaucratic organizations like them, to maintain legitimacy without identifying and addressing inequality.
We present results from a meta-analysis of 95 experimental and quasi-experimental preK-12 science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) professional development and curriculum programs, seeking to understand what content, activities and formats relate to stronger student outcomes. Across rigorously conducted studies, we found an average weighted impact estimate of +0.21 standard deviations. Programs saw stronger outcomes when they helped teachers learn to use curriculum materials; focused on improving teachers' content knowledge, pedagogical content knowledge and/or understanding of how students learn; incorporated summer workshops; and included teacher meetings to troubleshoot and discuss classroom implementation. We discuss implications for policy and practice.