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K-12 Education

Jessalynn James, James H. Wyckoff.

The distribution of teaching effectiveness across schools is fundamental to understanding how schools can address disparities in educational outcomes. Research and policy have recognized the importance of teaching effectiveness for decades. Five stylized facts predict that teachers should be differentially allocated across schools such that poor, Black and Hispanic students are taught by less qualified and less effective teachers. Yet, research is unclear whether these predictions have empirical support. Our purpose is to better understand whether there are meaningful differences in teacher effectiveness among schools. We find that poor, Black and Hispanic students are more likely to be taught by novice teachers when they live in more segregated MSAs. Moreover, the geographic nature of segregation varies across MSAs. Differentiating segregation within urban districts and segregation between urban districts and outlying districts in the same MSAs is essential to understanding poor students’ exposure to novice teachers and policies that address these disparities. We find that poor, Black and Hispanic students are 50 percent more likely to be exposed to at least one novice teacher during elementary school compared to their more affluent white peers. These results raise questions regarding the enforcement of ESSA’s requirements on the distribution of teacher qualifications and quality.

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Alvin Christian, Brian Jacob, John D. Singleton.

The COVID-19 pandemic drew new attention to the role of school boards in the U.S. In this paper, we examine school districts' choices of learning modality -- whether and when to offer in-person, virtual, or hybrid instruction -- over the course of the 2020-21 pandemic school year. The analysis takes advantage of granular weekly data on learning mode and COVID-19 cases for Ohio school districts. We show that districts respond on the margin to health risks: all else equal, a marginal increase in new cases reduces the probability that a district offers in-person instruction the next week. Moreover, this negative response is magnified when the district was in-person the prior week and attenuates in magnitude over the school year. These findings are consistent with districts learning from experience about the effect of in-person learning on disease transmission in schools. We also find evidence that districts are influenced by the decisions of their peers.

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Jing Liu, Monica Lee.

Student absenteeism is often conceptualized and quantified in a static, uniform manner, providing an incomplete understanding of this important phenomenon. Applying growth curve models to detailed class-attendance data, we document that secondary school students' unexcused absences grow steadily throughout a school year and over grades, while the growth of excused absences remain essentially unchanged. Importantly, students starting the school year with a high number of unexcused absences, Black and Hispanic students, and low-income students accumulate unexcused absences at a significantly faster rate than their counterparts. Lastly, students with higher growth rates in unexcused absences consistently report lower perceptions of all aspects of school culture than their peers. Interventions targeting unexcused absences and/or improving school culture can be crucial to mitigating disengagement.

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Carly D. Robinson, Biraj Bisht, Susanna Loeb.

Billions of dollars are invested in opt-in, educational resources to accelerate students’ learning. Although advertised to support struggling, marginalized students, there is no guarantee these students will opt in. We report results from a school system’s implementation of on-demand tutoring. The take up was low. At baseline, only 19% of students ever accessed the platform, and struggling students were far less likely to opt in than their more engaged and higher achieving peers. We conducted a randomized controlled trial (N=4,763) testing behaviorally-informed approaches to increase take-up. Communications to parents and students together increase the likelihood students access tutoring by 46%, which led to a four-percentage point decrease in course failures. Nonetheless, take-up remained low, showing concerns that opt-in resources can increase—instead of reduce—inequality are valid. Without targeted investments, opt-in educational resources are unlikely to reach many students who could benefit.

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Jing Liu, Megan Kuhfeld, Monica Lee, Danett Song.

Noncognitive constructs such as self-efficacy, social awareness, and academic engagement are widely acknowledged as critical components of human capital, but systematic data collection on such skills in school systems is complicated by conceptual ambiguities, measurement challenges and resource constraints. This study addresses this issue by comparing the predictive validity of two most widely used metrics on noncogntive outcomes|observable academic behaviors (e.g., absenteeism, suspensions) and student self-reported social and emotional learning (SEL) skills|for the likelihood of high school graduation and postsecondary attainment. Our findings suggest that conditional on student demographics and achievement, academic behaviors are several-fold more predictive than SEL skills for all long-run outcomes, and adding SEL skills to a model with academic behaviors improves the model's predictive power minimally. In addition, academic behaviors are particularly strong predictors for low-achieving students' long-run outcomes. Part-day absenteeism (as a result of class skipping) is the largest driver behind the strong predictive power of academic behaviors. Developing more nuanced behavioral measures in existing administrative data systems might be a fruitful strategy for schools whose intended goal centers on predicting students' educational attainment.

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Carly D. Robinson.

Few question the value of teacher-student relationships (TSRs) for educational outcomes. TSRs are positively associated with students’ achievement and engagement, as well as teachers’ well-being. Building and maintaining these crucial classroom relationships, however, is not easy. Drawing on prominent motivation theories in educational psychology, I present the Motivating Teacher-Student Relationships framework for understanding what motivates teachers to build positive TSRs. In particular, I focus on how teachers’ motivational beliefs about TSRs energize, direct, and sustain their efforts to engage in relationship-building behaviors and, thus, lead to positive relationships with their students. To build positive TSRs, teachers must believe it is their role to build TSRs, value TSRs, and believe they can successfully build TSRs (i.e., have relational self-efficacy). These beliefs are shaped by teachers’ sociocultural contexts and can facilitate or undermine the development of these learning relationships. With a greater understanding of how motivational beliefs influence social relationships, the field of education can more effectively develop theoretically grounded interventions to improve TSRs and mitigate inequality.

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Bobby W. Chung, Jian Zou.

States increasingly require prospective teachers to pass exams for program completion and initial licensure, 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 traditional route programs, less-selective and minority-concentrated universities. Contrary to the policy intention, we do not find evidence that edTPA increased student test scores.

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Sara White, Leiah Groom-Thomas, Susanna Loeb.

This study synthesizes existing research on the implementation of tutoring programs which we define as one-to-one or small-group instruction in which a human tutor supports students grades K-12 in an academic subject area. Tutoring has emerged as an especially promising strategy for supporting students’ academic success with strong causal evidence finding large, positive effects on students' math and reading test scores across grade levels. Prior studies have reviewed this causal evidence of effects, but none have summarized the evidence on implementation. We iteratively developed search and selection criteria to identify studies addressing key research questions and synthesized these 40 studies which employ a range of research methodologies to describe how tutoring is implemented and experienced. We find that existing research provides rich descriptions of tutoring implementation within specific programs of focus, with most studies describing after-school tutoring and small-scale programs run by university professors. While few elements of implementation are studied in depth across multiple studies, common patterns emerge. Tutoring program launch is often facilitated by strategic relationships between schools and external tutoring providers and strengthened by transparent assessments of program quality and effectiveness. Successful tutoring implementation often hinges on the support of key school leaders with the power to direct the use of school funding, space, and time. Tutoring setting and schedule, tutor recruitment and training, and curriculum identification influence whether students are able to access tutoring services and the quality of the instruction provided. Ultimately, the evidence points to strong tutoring being driven by positive student-tutor relationships through which tutors provide instruction strategically targeted for students’ strengths and needs driving towards a long-term academic goal.

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Kaitlyn O'Hagan, Leanna Stiefel, Amy Ellen Schwartz.

Students with disabilities (SWDs) educated in traditional public schools alongside general education students (GENs) typically move to middle school in sixth grade, rather than continuing in a K-8/12. The documented negative effects of this move on GEN academic outcomes suggests similar negative—and perhaps larger—effects on SWDs. Using an instrumental variables strategy and NYC data on nine cohorts of students, we find the middle school transition causes a 0.30 (0.16) standard deviation decline in SWD math (ELA) performance and increases grade retention. Low-income SWDs and SWDs with a specific learning disability or emotional disturbance fare worse. However, the move does not widen the SWD-GEN gap, suggesting the need to ease the middle school transition for all students.

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Matthew A. Kraft, Sarah Novicoff.

Policymakers have renewed calls for expanding instructional time in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. We establish a set of empirical facts about time in school, synthesize the literature on the causal effects of instructional time, and conduct a case study of time use in an urban district. On average, instructional time in U.S. public schools is comparable to most high-income countries, with longer days but shorter years. However, instructional time varies widely across U.S. public schools with a 90th-10th percentile difference of 190 total hours. Empirical literature confirms that additional time can increase student achievement, but how this time is structured matters. Our case study suggests schools might also recover substantial lost learning time within the existing school day.

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