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K-12 Education

Kylie L. Anglin.

Traditional public schools in the United States must comply with a variety of regulations on educational inputs like teacher certification, maximum class sizes, and restrictions on staff contracts. Absent regulations, policymakers fear that troubled districts would make inappropriate decisions that would harm students. However, it is also possible that strict regulations hinder schools from optimizing student learning. This paper tests the salience of these two hypotheses within the context of a widespread deregulation effort in Texas which allows traditional public school districts to claim District of Innovation status and opt out of regulations not related to health, safety, and civil rights. Using a novel dataset of administration data merged with implementation information scraped from district websites, I estimate the impact of District of Innovation status with a difference-in-differences strategy where later implementers act as the comparison group for early implementers. I find that, despite the breadth of regulations exempted, regulatory autonomy does not significantly impact either math or reading achievement nor does it impact hiring or class sizes. Together, the results offer strong evidence against the hypothesis that regulation hinders school improvement and suggests that state input regulations play only a limited role in determining school decision-making or student achievement.

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Katharina Werner, Ludger Woessmann.

If school closures and social-distancing experiences during the Covid-19 pandemic impeded children’s skill development, they may leave a lasting legacy in human capital. To understand the pandemic’s effects on school children, this paper combines a review of the emerging international literature with new evidence from German longitudinal time-use surveys. Based on the conceptual framework of an education production function, we cover evidence on child, parent, and school inputs and students’ cognitive and socio-emotional development. The German panel evidence shows that children’s learning time decreased severely during the first school closures, particularly for low-achieving students, and increased only slightly one year later. In a value-added model, learning time increases with daily online class instruction, but not with other school activities. The review shows substantial losses in cognitive skills on achievement tests, particularly for students from disadvantaged backgrounds. Socio-emotional wellbeing also declined in the short run. Structural models and reduced-form projections suggest that unless remediated, the school closures will persistently reduce skill development, lifetime income, and economic growth and increase inequality.

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Matthew A. Kraft, Manuel Monti-Nussbaum.

Narrative accounts of classroom instruction suggest that external interruptions, such as intercom announcements and visits from staff, are a regular occurrence in U.S. public schools. We study the frequency, nature, and duration of external interruptions in the Providence Public School District (PPSD) using original data from a district-wide survey and classroom observations. We estimate that a typical classroom in PPSD is interrupted over 2,000 times per year, and that these interruptions and the disruptions they cause result in the loss of between 10 to 20 days of instructional time. Administrators appear to systematically underestimate the frequency and negative consequences of these interruptions. We propose several organizational approaches schools might adopt to reduce external interruptions to classroom instruction.

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Catherine Armstrong Asher, Ethan Scherer, James S. Kim.

Parental text messaging interventions are growing in popularity to encourage at-home reading, school-attendance, and other educational behaviors. These interventions, which often combine multiple components, frequently demonstrate varying amounts of effectiveness, and researchers often cannot determine how individual components work alone or in combination with one another. Using a 2x2x3 factorial experiment, we investigate the effects of individual and interacted components from three behavioral levers to support summer reading: providing updated, personalized information; emphasizing different reading views; and goal setting. We find that the personalized information condition scored on average 0.03 SD higher on fall reading assessments. Texting effects on test scores were enhanced by messages that emphasized reading being useful for both entertainment and building skills compared to skill building alone or entertainment alone. These results continue to build our understanding that while text message can be an effective tool for parent engagement, the specific content of the message can lead to meaningful differences in the magnitude of the effects.

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Lucy C. Sorensen, Montserrat Avila Acosta, John Engberg, Shawn D. Bushway.

U.S. public school students increasingly attend schools with sworn law enforcement officers present. Yet, little is known about how these school resource officers (SROs) affect school environments or student outcomes. Our study uses a fuzzy regression discontinuity (RD) design with national school-level data from 2014 to 2018 to estimate the impacts of SRO placement. We construct this discontinuity based on the application scores of nearby police agencies for federal school-based policing grants. We find that SROs do effectively reduce some forms of violence in schools, but do not prevent school shootings or gun-related incidents. We also find that SROs intensify the use of suspensions, expulsions, police referrals, and arrests of students. These effects are consistently over two times larger for Black students than White students. Finally, we observe that SROs increase chronic absenteeism, particularly for students with disabilities.

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NaYoung Hwang, Brian Kisida.

Although the majority of elementary school teachers are in self-contained classrooms and teach all major subjects, a growing number of teachers specialize in teaching fewer subjects to higher numbers of students. We use administrative data from Indiana to estimate the effect of teacher specialization on teacher and school effectiveness in elementary schools. We find that teacher specialization leads to lower teaching effectiveness in math and reading, and the negative effects are larger when teaching students who are more likely to experience difficulties in school. Moreover, we find no evidence that increasing the proportion of teacher specialists at the school level generates improvements in indicators of school quality.

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Matthew Shirrell, Travis J. Bristol, Tolani A. Britton.

Although Black and Latinx students disproportionately face exclusionary school discipline, prior research finds that the likelihood of suspension for Black students decreases when they are taught by greater proportions of Black teachers. Little prior work, however, has examined whether these effects generalize to large, diverse, urban school districts or to Asian American or Latinx students and teachers. Using student fixed effects models and 10 years of data from New York City, we find that assignment to greater proportions of ethnoracially matched teachers decreases the likelihood of suspension for Black, Latinx, and Asian American students. The magnitudes of these effects are small but suggest that diversifying the teacher workforce could lead to significant decreases in exclusionary discipline in urban districts.

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Alex Eble, Maya Escueta.

Can families in low-income contexts “pull themselves up by their bootstraps?” In rural Gambia, caregivers with high aspirations for their children, measured before the child starts school, invest substantially more in their children’s education. Despite this, essentially no children are literate or numerate three years later. In contrast, a bundled supply-side intervention administered in these same areas generated large literacy and numeracy gains. Crucially, conditional on receipt of this intervention, high-aspirations children are 25 percent more likely to attain literacy/numeracy than low-aspirations children. We also show how the test score SD metric can mislead when counterfactual learning levels are low.

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Olivia L. Chi.

State and local education agencies across the country are prioritizing the goal of diversifying the teacher workforce. To further understand the challenges of diversifying the teacher pipeline, I investigate race and gender dynamics between teachers and school-based administrators, who are key decision-makers in hiring, evaluating, and retaining teachers. I use longitudinal data from a large school district in the southeastern United States to examine the effects of race-congruence and gender-congruence between teachers and observers/administrators on teachers’ observation scores. Using models with two-way fixed effects, I find that teachers, on average, experience small positive increases in their scores from sharing race or gender with their observers, raising fairness concerns for teachers whose race or gender identities are not reflected by any of their raters.

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Umut Özek.

High school graduation rates in the United States are at an all-time high, yet many of these graduates are deemed not ready for postsecondary coursework when they enter college. This study examines the short-, medium-, and long-term effects of remedial courses in middle school using a regression discontinuity design. While the short-term test score benefits of taking a remedial course in English language arts in middle school fade quickly, I find significant positive effects on the likelihood of taking college credit-bearing courses in high school, college enrollment, enrolling in more selective colleges, persistence in college, and degree attainment.

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