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K-12 Education

Bobby W. Chung, Jian Zou.

The educative Teacher Performance Assessment (edTPA) - a performance-based examination for prospective PreK-12 teachers to guarantee teaching readiness - has gained popularity in recent years. This research offers the first causal evidence about the effects of this nationwide initiative on teacher supply and student outcomes of new teachers. 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. We find that the new license requirement reduced the number of graduates from teacher preparation programs by 14%. The negative effect is stronger for non-white prospective teachers at less-selective universities. Contrary to the policy intention, we find evidence that edTPA has adverse effects on student learning.

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C. Kirabo Jackson, Claire Mackevicius.

We examine all known "credibly causal" studies to explore the distribution of the causal effects of public K-12 school spending on student outcomes in the United States. For each of the 31 included studies, we compute the same marginal spending effect parameter estimate. Precision-weighted method of moments estimates indicate that, on average, a $1000 increase in per-pupil public school spending (for four years) increases test scores by 0.0352 standard deviations, high school graduation by 1.92 percentage points, and college-going by 2.65 percentage points. These pooled averages are significant at the 0.0001 level. When benchmarked against other interventions, test score impacts are smaller than those on educational attainment -- suggesting that test-score impacts understate the value of school spending. 

The benefits to marginal capital spending increases take about five years to materialize, and are about half as large as (and less consistently positive than) those of non-capital-specific spending increases. The marginal spending impacts for all spending types are less pronounced for economically advantaged populations -- though not statistically significantly so. Consistent with a cumulative effect, the educational attainment impacts are larger with more years of exposure to the spending increase.  Average impacts are similar across a wide range of baseline spending levels and geographic characteristics -- providing little evidence of diminishing marginal returns at current spending levels.

To assuage concerns that pooled averages aggregate selection or confounding biases across studies, we use a meta-regression-based method that tests for, and removes, certain biases in the reported effects. This approach is straightforward and can remove biases in meta-analyses where the parameter of interest is a ratio, slope, or elasticity. We fail to reject that the meta-analytic averages are unbiased. Moreover, policies that generate larger increases in per-pupil spending tend to generate larger improvements in outcomes, in line with the pooled average. 

To speak to generalizability, we estimate the variability across studies attributable to effect heterogeneity (as opposed to sampling variability). This heterogeneity explains between 76 and 88 percent of the variation across studies. Estimates of heterogeneity allow us to provide a range of likely policy impacts. Our estimates suggest that a policy that increases per-pupil spending for four years will improve test scores and/or educational attainment over 90 percent of the time. We find evidence of small possible publication bias among very imprecise studies, but show that any effects on our precision-weighted estimates are minimal.

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Jeehee Han, Amy Ellen Schwartz.

Is public housing bad for children? Critics charge that public housing projects concentrate poverty and create neighborhoods with limited opportunities, including low-quality schools. However, whether the net effect is positive or negative is theoretically ambiguous and likely to depend on the characteristics of the neighborhood and schools compared to origin neighborhoods. In this paper, we draw on detailed individual-level longitudinal data on students moving into New York City public housing and examine their academic outcomes over time. Exploiting plausibly random variation in the precise timing of entry into public housing, we estimate credibly causal effects of public housing using both difference-in-differences and event study designs. We find credibly causal evidence of positive effects of moving into public housing on student test scores, with larger effects over time. Stalled academic performance in the first year of entry may reflect, in part, disruptive effects of residential and school moves. Neighborhood matters: effects are larger for students moving out of low-income neighborhoods or into higher-income neighborhoods, and these students move to schools with higher average test scores and lower shares of economically disadvantaged peers. We also find some evidence of improved attendance outcomes and reduction in incidence of childhood obesity for boys following public housing residency. Our study results refute the popular belief that public housing is bad for kids and probe the circumstances under which public housing may work to improve academic outcomes for low-income students.

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Andrew Bacher-Hicks, Joshua Goodman, Jennifer Greif Green, Melissa K. Holt.

School bullying is widespread and has substantial social costs. One in five U.S. high school students report being bullied each school year and these students face greater risks of serious mental health challenges that extend into adulthood. As the COVID-19 pandemic forced most students into online education, many have worried that cyberbullying prevalence would grow dramatically. We use data from Google internet searches to examine changing bullying patterns as COVID-19 disrupted in-person schooling. Pre-pandemic historical patterns show that internet searches provide useful information about actual bullying behavior. Real-time data then shows that searches for school bullying and cyberbullying both dropped about 30-40 percent as schools shifted to remote learning in spring 2020. This drop is sustained through the fall and winter of the 2020-21 school year, though the gradual return to in-person instruction partially returns bullying searches to pre-pandemic levels. These results highlight how in-person interaction is an important mechanism underlying not only in-person school bullying, but also cyberbullying. We discuss how this otherwise damaging shock to students and schools provides insight into the mixed impact of the pandemic on student well-being.

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Beth E. Schueler, Daniel Rodriguez-Segura.

Covid-19-induced school closures generated great interest in tutoring as a strategy to make up for lost learning time. Tutoring is backed by a rigorous body of research, but it is unclear whether it can be delivered effectively remotely. We study the effect of teacher-student phone call interventions in Kenya when schools were closed. Schools (n=105) were randomly assigned for their 3rd, 5th and 6th graders (n=8,319) to receive one of two versions of a 7-week weekly math-focused intervention—5-minute accountability checks or 15-minute mini-tutoring sessions—or to the control group. Although calls increased student perceptions that teachers cared, accountability checks had no effect on math performance up to four months after the intervention and tutoring decreased math achievement among students who returned to their schools after reopening. This was, in part, because the relatively low-achieving students most likely to benefit from calls were least likely to return and take in-person assessments. Tutoring substituted away from more productive uses of time, at least among returning students. Neither intervention affected enrollment. Tutoring remains a valuable tool but to avoid unintended consequences, careful attention should be paid to aligning tutoring interventions with best practices and targeting interventions to those who will benefit most.

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David M. Houston, Michael B. Henderson, Paul E. Peterson, Martin R. West.

Do Americans hold a consistent set of opinions about their public schools and how to improve them? From 2013 to 2018, over 5,000 unique respondents participated in more than one consecutive iteration of the annual, nationally representative Education Next poll, offering an opportunity to examine individual-level attitude stability on education policy issues over a six-year period. The proportion of participants who provide the same response to the same question over multiple consecutive years greatly exceeds the amount expected to occur by chance alone. We also find that teachers offer more consistent responses than their non-teaching peers. By contrast, we do not observe similar differences in attitude stability between parents of school-age children and their counterparts without children.

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Kenneth A. Shores, Christopher A. Candelaria, Sarah E. Kabourek.

Sixty-seven school finance reforms (SFRs), a combination of court-ordered and legislative reforms, have taken place since 1990; however, there is little empirical evidence on the heterogeneity of SFR effects. In this study, we estimate the effects of SFRs on revenues and expenditures between 1990 and 2014 for 26 states. We find that, on average, per pupil spending increased, especially in low-income districts relative to high-income districts. However, underlying these average effect estimates, the distribution of state-level effect sizes ranges from negative to positive---there is substantial heterogeneity. When predicting SFR impacts, we find that multiple state-level SFRs, union strength, and some funding formula components are positively associated with SFR effect sizes in low-income districts. We also show that, on average, states without SFRs adopted funding formula components and increased K-12 state revenues similarly to states with SFRs.

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Miles Davison, Andrew M. Penner, Emily Penner, Nikolas Pharris-Ciurej, Sonya R. Porter, Evan Rose, Yotam Shem-Tov, Paul Yoo.

Despite interest in the role of school discipline in the creation of racial inequality, previous research has been unable to identify how students who receive suspensions in school differ from unsuspended classmates on key young adult outcomes. We utilize novel data to document the links between high school discipline and important young adult outcomes related to criminal justice contact, social safety net program participation, post-secondary education, and the labor market. We show that the link between school discipline and young adult outcomes tends to be stronger for Black students than for White students, and that inequality in exposure to school discipline accounts for approximately 30 percent of the Black-White disparities in young adult criminal justice outcomes and SNAP receipt.

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Emily Gutierrez.

Over the last decade, more and more schools have adopted Universal Free Meals (UFM), a program that provides meals free of charge to all students, regardless of household income. Recent research finds UFM increases participation in school meals, improves test scores, and reduces incidences of bad behavior. Additionally, advocates cite stigma reduction as one of UFM’s many benefits, but to date, scholars have yet to provide empirical evidence of this claim. This paper fills the gap in the literature by being the first to examine whether UFM influences student perceptions of school climate. I use individual, student survey responses and school meal participation data from New York City Department of Education (NYCDOE) to investigate whether and to what extent UFM changes participation behavior and student perceptions of their school climate. Using a difference-in-differences design, I exploit students’ staggered exposure to UFM, among those that are ever exposed, to investigate if UFM influences participation and improves student perceptions of bullying, fighting, respect, and safety. I find UFM increases school lunch participation among students that were previously eligible for free meals but rarely participated, suggesting that UFM affects participation patterns beyond simply reducing the price of food. All students, regardless of socioeconomic status, report reductions in perceptions of bullying and fighting within school, as well as improvements in perceptions of safety outside of school. Notably, students ever designated as eligible for free/reduced price meals and those that ate school lunches last year report feeling safer inside the school cafeteria. Thus, not only does UFM improve perceptions associated with stigma for students who directly interact with UFM, but the program also has positive effects for all students regardless of their socioeconomic status.

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Michelle L. Lofton, Martin F. Lueken.

Education savings accounts (ESAs) are education funding mechanisms that allow for families to receive a deposit of public funds to a government-authorized savings account. Using student-level longitudinal data, this paper examines how families participating in the Florida Gardiner Scholarship Program use education savings account funds. Results indicate that families use an increasing proportion of ESA funds the longer students remain in the program. The longer students remain in the program, the share of ESA funds devoted to private school tuition decreases while expenditure shares increase for curriculum, instruction, tutoring, and specialized services. Students in rural areas not only use a greater portion of their ESA funds than families in urban and suburban areas, but they also spend smaller portions of their funds on tuition and appear to customize more.

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