- Andrew McEachin
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One of the controversies surrounding charter schools is whether these schools may either “cream skim” high-performing students from traditional public schools or “pushout” low-achieving students or students with discipline histories, leaving traditional public schools to educate the most challenging students. We use these terms strictly for brevity and acknowledge that many of the reasons that students are labeled high- or low-performing academically or behaviorally are beyond the control of the student. In this study, we use longitudinal statewide data from Tennessee and North Carolina and linear probability models to examine whether there is evidence consistent with these selective enrollment practices. Because school choice programs managed by districts (magnet and open enrollment programs) have a similar ability to cream skim and pushout students, we also examine these outcomes for these programs. Across the various school choice programs, magnet schools have the most evidence of cream skimming, but this might be expected as they often have selective admissions. For charter schools, we do not find patterns in the data consistent with cream skimming, but we do find evidence consistent with pushout behaviors based on discipline records. Finally, some have raised concerns that students may be pushed out near accountability test dates, but our results suggest no evidence consistent with this claim.
Summer learning loss (SLL) is a familiar and much-studied phenomenon, yet new concerns that measurement artifacts distorted canonical SLL findings create a need to revisit basic research on SLL. Though race/ethnicity and SES only account for about 4% of the variance in SLL, nearly all prior work focuses on these factors. We zoom out to the full spread of differential SLL and its contribution to students’ positions in the eighth grade achievement distribution. Using a large, longitudinal Northwest Evaluation Association dataset, we document dramatic variability in SLL. While some students actually maintain their school-year learning rate, others lose nearly all their school-year progress. Moreover, decrements are not randomly distributed—52% of students lose ground in all 5 consecutive years (ELA).
The vast majority of literature on school choice, and charter schools in particular, focus on attending an elementary or middle school grades and often focus on test scores or other proximal outcomes. Much less is known about the long-term effects of attending a charter school in 9th grade. It is important to fill this information void for a few reasons. First, schools in general affect more than just students’ test scores. Second, secondary schools (including grades 9 to 12) make up a larger share of the charter sector. Third, school choice depends on freely available information for parents and students to make informed decisions about where to attend, including potential long-term benefits. We add to the empirical research on charter school effects by using a doubly-robust inverse probability weighted approach to evaluate the impacts of secondary charter school attendance on 9th grade behavioral outcomes and individuals propensity to commit crime and participate in elections as young adults in North Carolina, a state with a large and growing charter school sector.
How should schools assign students to more rigorous math courses so as best to help their academic outcomes? We identify several hundred California middle schools that used 7th grade test scores to place students into 8th grade Algebra courses, and use a regression discontinuity design to estimate average impacts and heterogeneity across schools. Enrolling in 8th grade algebra boosts students’ enrollment in advanced math in 9th grade by 30 percentage points and 11th grade by 16 percentage points. Math scores in 10th grade rise by 0.05 standard deviations. Women, students of color, and English-language learners benefit disproportionately from placement into early Algebra. Importantly, the benefits of 8th grade algebra are substantially larger in schools that set their eligibility threshold higher in the baseline achievement distribution. This suggests a potential tradeoff between increased access and rates of subsequent math success.
Black and poor students are suspended from U.S. schools at higher rates than white and non-poor students. While the existence of these disparities has been clear, the causes of the disparities have not. We use a novel dataset to examine how and where discipline disparities arise. By comparing the punishments given to black and white (or poor and non-poor) students who fight one another, we address a selection challenge that has kept prior studies from identifying discrimination in student discipline. We find that black and poor students are, in fact, punished more harshly than the students with whom they fight.
Schools utilize an array of strategies to match curricula and instruction to students’ heterogeneous skills. While generations of scholars have debated “tracking” and its consequences, the literature fails to account for diversity of school-level sorting practices. In this paper we draw upon the work of Sørenson (1970) to articulate and develop empirical measures of five distinct dimensions of school cross-classroom tracking systems: (1) the degree of course differentiation, (2) the extent to which sorting practices generate skills-homogeneous classrooms, (3) the rate at which students enroll in advanced courses, (4) the extent to which students move between tracks over time, and (5) the relation between track assignments across subject areas. Analyses of longitudinal administrative data following 24,000 8th graders enrolled in 23 middle schools through the 10th grade indicate that these dimensions of tracking are empirically separable and have divergent effects on student achievement and the production of inequality.