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K-12 Education

Robert M. Costrell, Josh B. McGee.

Current public pension funding policy has arguably failed on both theoretical and empirical grounds. The traditional actuarial approach elides the risk-return tradeoff at the heart of finance economics and has resulted in steadily rising contribution rates, instead of a sustainable steady state. We propose an economic reformulation of funding policy integrating: (1) steady-state determination of the expected contribution rate, based on an expected return on risky assets and a target funded ratio based on a low-risk discount rate for liabilities; (2) adjustment parameters to achieve convergence toward steady state; and (3) determination of target funded ratio based on policymakers’ revealed preference toward risk, by their choice of asset allocation under a simplified objective function.  This provides a new understanding of the basis for pre-funding, in which the perceived net benefits of risky investment may far outweigh the traditional Samuelsonian rationale.  Specifically, we find that convexity of the long-run risk-return relationship should lead more risk-tolerant policymakers to pursue higher target funded ratios.  We believe our analysis provides the basis for reformulating contribution policy in a way that better supports sustainability and more coherently conveys the tradeoffs consistent with finance economics, and as evaluated by policymakers.

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Courtney Bell, Jessalynn James, Eric S. Taylor, James H. Wyckoff.

We study the returns to experience in teaching, estimated using supervisor ratings from classroom observations. We describe the assumptions required to interpret changes in observation ratings over time as the causal effect of experience on performance. We compare two difference-in-differences strategies: the two-way fixed effects estimator common in the literature, and an alternative which avoids potential bias arising from effect heterogeneity. Using data from Tennessee and Washington, DC, we show empirical tests relevant to assessing the identifying assumptions and substantive threats—e.g., leniency bias, manipulation, changes in incentives or job assignments—and find our estimates are robust to several threats.

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Noman Khanani, Anastasia E. Raczek, Yan R. Leigh, Claire Foley, Mary E. Walsh, Eric Dearing.

Growing up in poverty presents numerous nonacademic barriers that impede academic progress for economically disadvantaged students (Duncan and Murnane, 2016). Because schools alone have limited capacity to address the systemic nature of economic inequalities that directly affects student outcomes, policymakers and researchers in recent years have increased calls for the use of comprehensive, integrated support models and wraparound services (Wasser Gish, 2019). Although research on the effects of such interventions has been mixed, evaluations of one model – City Connects – have found significant achievement gains for students who received the intervention in elementary school (Walsh et al., 2014). Given the need to understand the replicability of interventions beyond initial sites of implementation, we assessed the degree to which the intervention effect on math and English Language Arts (ELA) achievement in elementary and middle school replicates in a new site with an important geographical variation. Results from two-way fixed effects and event-study models suggest positive treatment effects of nearly half a standard deviation in both subjects following five years of implementation, supporting the replicability of City Connects.

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Lauren Sartain, Silvana Freire, John Q. Easton, Briana Diaz.

Across an array of educational outcomes, evidence suggests that girls outperform boys on average. For example, in Chicago, ninth-grade girls earn math GPAs that are 0.29 points higher than boys on average. This paper examines explanations for this gap, such as girl-boy differences in academic preparation, behaviors and habits, and experiences in math classes. After accounting for these factors, the gender gap in math grades persists. We, then, examine the classroom-level conditions that reduce the gender gap in grades. The gap is smaller in more advanced courses like honors classes and geometry. Further, boys perform more similarly to girls in classes with male teachers. These findings highlight classroom conditions that are more conducive to the academic success of boys.

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Michael S. Hayes, Jing Liu, Seth Gershenson.

Teachers affect a wide range of students’ educational and social outcomes, but how they contribute to students’ involvement in school discipline is less understood. We estimate the impact of teacher demographics and other observed qualifications on students’ likelihood of receiving a disciplinary referral. Using data that track all disciplinary referrals and the identity of both the referred and referring individuals from a large and diverse urban school district in California, we find students are about 0.2 to 0.5 percentage points (7% to 18%) less likely to receive a disciplinary referral from teachers of the same race or gender than from teachers of different demographic backgrounds. Students are also less likely to be referred by more experienced teachers and by teachers who hold either an English language learners or special education credential. These results are mostly driven by referrals for defiance and violence infractions, Black and Hispanic male students, and middle school students. While it is unclear whether these findings are due to variation in teachers’ effects on actual student behavior, variation in teachers’ proclivities to make disciplinary referrals, or a combination of the two, these results nonetheless suggest that teachers play a central role in the prevalence of, and inequities in, office referrals and subsequent student discipline.

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Dorottya Demszky, Jing Liu, Heather C. Hill, Dan Jurafsky, Chris Piech.

Providing consistent, individualized feedback to teachers is essential for improving instruction but can be prohibitively resource intensive in most educational contexts. We develop an automated tool based on natural language processing to give teachers feedback on their uptake of student contributions, a high-leverage teaching practice that supports dialogic instruction and makes students feel heard. We conduct a randomized controlled trial as part of an online computer science course, Code in Place (n=1,136 instructors), to evaluate the effectiveness of the feedback tool. We find that the tool improves instructors’ uptake of student contributions by 27% and present suggestive evidence that our tool also improves students’ satisfaction with the course and assignment completion. These results demonstrate the promise of our tool to complement existing efforts in teachers’ professional development.

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Danielle Victoria Handel, Eric A. Hanushek.

The impact of school resources on student outcomes was first raised in the 1960s and has been controversial since then. This issue enters into the decision making on school finance in both legislatures and the courts. The historical research found little consistent or systematic relationship of spending and achievement, but this research frequently suffers from significant concerns about the underlying estimation strategies. More recent work has re-opened the fundamental resource-achievement relationship with more compelling analyses that offer stronger identification of resource impacts. A thorough review of existing studies, however, leads to similar conclusions as the historical work: how resources are used is key to the outcomes. At the same time, the research has not been successful at identifying mechanisms underlying successful use of resources or for ascertaining when added school investments are likely to be well-used. Direct investigations of alternative input policies (capital spending, reducing class size, or salary incentives for teachers) do not provide clear support for such specific policy initiatives.

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Brian T. Hamel.

The conventional wisdom is that school board members in the U.S. face limited electoral incentives to invest in schools and student achievement. I argue that they are electorally incentivized to invest in some schools and students. Specifically, I argue that school spending can boost vote shares for incumbent school board members, and that school board members will allocate resources strategically, prioritizing schools located in neighborhoods of their district where spending will maximize their vote share. I test this argument using data from a discretionary school modernization program in the Los Angeles Unified School District, and find that board members distribute resources to schools in competitive and moderately supportive neighborhoods while excluding schools in overwhelmingly opposed and supportive areas. This paper is the first to show how elections affect the allocation of funding across schools. The results suggest that local democratic control of school boards can hinder education equality.

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Michael Dinerstein, Isaac M. Opper.

What happens when employers screen their employees but only observe a subset of output? We specify a model with heterogeneous employees and show that their response to the screening affects output in both the probationary period and the post-probationary period. The post-probationary impact is due to their heterogeneous responses affecting which individuals are retained and hence the screening efficiency. We show that the impact of the endogenous response on both the unobserved outcome and screening efficiency depends on whether increased effort on one task increases or decreases the marginal cost of effort on the other task. If the response decreases unobserved output in the probationary period then it increases the screening efficiency, and vice versa. We then assess these predictions empirically by studying a change to teacher tenure policy in New York City, which increased the role that a single measure -- test score value-added -- played in tenure decisions. We show that in response to the policy teachers increased test score value-added and decreased output that did not enter the tenure decision. The increase in test score value-added was largest for the teachers with more ability to improve students' untargeted outcomes, increasing their likelihood of getting tenure. We estimate that the endogenous response to the policy announcement reduced the screening efficiency gap -- defined as the reduction of screening efficiency stemming from the partial observability of output -- by 28%, effectively shifting some of the cost of partial observability from the post-tenure period to the pre-tenure period.

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Sarah Komisarow, Steven W. Hemelt.

The prevalence of school-based healthcare has increased markedly over the past decade. We study a modern mode of school-based healthcare, telemedicine, that offers the potential to reach places and populations with historically low access to such care. School-based telemedicine clinics (SBTCs) provide students with access to healthcare during the regular school day through private videoconferencing with a healthcare provider. We exploit variation over time in SBTC openings across schools in three rural districts in North Carolina. We find that school-level SBTC access reduces the likelihood that a student is chronically absent by 2.5 percentage points (29 percent) and reduces the number of days absent by about 0.8 days (10 percent). Relatedly, access to an SBTC increases the likelihood of math and reading test-taking by between 1.8-2.0 percentage points (about 2 percent). Heterogeneity analyses suggest that these effects are driven by male students. Finally, we see suggestive evidence that SBTC access reduces violent or weapons-related disciplinary infractions among students but has little influence on other forms of misbehavior.

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