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Markets (vouchers, choice, for-profits, vendors)

Andrew Bacher-Hicks, Tareena Musaddiq, Joshua Goodman, Kevin Stange.

The extent to which pandemic-induced public school enrollment declines will persist is unclear. Student-level data from Michigan through fall 2021 yields three relevant findings. First, relative to pre-pandemic trends, fall 2021 enrollment had partially recovered for low-income, Black, and Hispanic students, but had declined further for non-low-income, White, and Asian students. Second, annual public school exit rates remained elevated for elementary students and accelerated further for middle school students. Third, public school exit is sticky and varies by chosen alternative. Only 21 percent of those who left for private schools in fall 2020 had returned by fall 2021, while 50 percent of those who left for homeschooling had returned. These findings suggest that pandemic-driven public school enrollment declines may persist, and more so among higher income families.

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C. Kirabo Jackson.

This paper presents new evidence on the benefits of decentralization in public education, focusing on a Chicago policy that granted school principals more control over budgeting and operations. Meta-analysis of similar policies shows a small average effect with significant variation across settings. To explain this heterogeneity, I adopt theories from public finance, contract theory and psychology that suggest that the impact of autonomy depends on motivation effects, principal objectives, and the alignment between district and school choices. In event-study models, on average, increased school-level control improved math and English passing rates by about four percentage points (0.1σ), comparable to interventions costing over $1,000 per pupil but achieved at nearly zero cost. Affected schools also see reduced principal turnover and improved school climate, indicating increased stability and effort. Deconvolution-based analysis of the distribution of true effects reveals a range from zero at the 20th percentile to a ten percentage-point increase at the 80th percentile (approximately 0.2σ). I provide design-based evidence supporting the theoretical literature: (a) High-quality principals with a track record of strong test score growth experience more positive autonomy effects – underscoring the role of local capacity and well-aligned incentives. (b) Schools with atypical student populations benefit more from autonomy and allocate resources to services tailored to their student’s specific needs – indicating that heterogeneity plays a key role.

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Torsten Figueiredo Walter, Guthrie Gray-Lobe, Sarah Kabay.

Hardware requirements are a barrier to widespread adoption of digital learning software among low-income populations. We investigate the demand among smallholder-farming households for a simple, adaptive math learning tool that can be accessed by widely available ``brick'' phones, and its effect on educational outcomes. Over a quarter of invited households used the tool, with greater demand among households lacking electricity, radios, or televisions. Usage was highest when schools were out of session. Engagement lapsed without regular reminders to use the service. Using random variation in access to the service, we find evidence that the platform increased test scores, school attendance, and grade attainment. Interpretation of these estimates is complicated by potentially endogenous outcome observation.

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Stéphane Lavertu, Long Tran.

There is growing concern that some nonprofit public service providers may be nonprofit in name but not in fact. We consider this concern in the context of nonprofit charter schools, which sometimes subcontract their daily operations to for-profit management organizations. We use unique data from Ohio to study how nonprofit charter schools’ reliance on for-profit operators affects student achievement and attendance. The results indicate that nonprofit charters that subcontract with for-profit operators tend to be more effective and equitable in promoting student achievement (but not attendance, a less salient outcome) than nearby traditional public schools serving similar students. However, nonprofit charters that subcontract with for-profit operators tend to be less effective (with regard to both achievement and attendance) and less equitable (with regard to attendance) than other nonprofit charters nearby. Further analysis comparing the administration and outcomes of for-profit and nonprofit operators suggests that the profit motive may help explain the inferior performance of nonprofit charters with for-profit operators. Our study offers theoretical insights for literatures on charter schools, contracting, performance monitoring, and sector boundaries, and it has immediate implications for education policy and management.

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Nicholas D.E. Mark, Sean P. Corcoran, Jennifer L. Jennings.

We provide a descriptive analysis of within-school and neighborhood similarity in high school applications in New York City. We depart from prior work by examining similarity in applications to specific schools rather than preferences for school characteristics. We find surprisingly low similarity within schools and neighborhoods, but substantial variation by race and prior achievement. White and Asian students are more likely to have choices in common relative to Black and Hispanic students, a difference that persists after controlling for achievement and location. Likewise, higher-achieving students are more likely to have choices in common, conditional on other student characteristics and location. An implication is that students’ likelihood of attending high school without any peers from their middle school or neighborhood varies by student background.

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Appendix487.16 KB

Meghan McCormick, Cullen MacDowell, Christina Weiland, JoAnn Hsueh, Michelle Maier, Mirjana Pralica, Samuel Maves, Catherine Snow, Jason Sachs.

This study uses implementation fidelity data from PreK to 1st grade in the Boston Public Schools (BPS) to measure instructional alignment and examine whether stronger alignment is associated with sustained benefits of BPS PreK on children’s language, literacy, and math skills through first grade. The study includes N = 498 students (mean age = 5.47, SD = 0.30 in K fall). Children who experienced strong instructional alignment across grades had faster gains in literacy (SD = .47) and math (SD = .28) skills through the spring of first grade compared with non-BPS PreK attenders. Mis-alignment predicted faster convergence in literacy skills. Results highlight that instructional alignment may help to sustain the initial benefits of PreK programs through first grade in a subset of outcome domains. Implications for further research measuring alignment in a broader range of settings and implications for practice are discussed.

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Paul Yoo, Thurston Domina, Andrew McEachin, Leah Clark, Hannah Hertenstein, Andrew M. Penner.

Virtual charter schools are increasingly popular, yet there is no research on the long-term outcomes of virtual charter students. We link statewide education records from Oregon with earnings information from IRS records housed at the US Census Bureau to provide evidence on how virtual charter students fare as young adults. Virtual charter students have substantially worse high school graduation rates, college enrollment rates, bachelor's degree attainment, employment rates, and earnings than students in traditional public schools. Although there is growing demand for virtual charter schools, our results suggest that students who enroll in virtual charters may face negative long-term consequences.

This paper is available exclusively at REACH until June 30, 2023.


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Edward J. Kim, Luke W. Miratrix.

Greater school choice leads to lower demand for private tutoring according to various international studies, but this has not been explicitly tested for the U.S. context. To estimate the causal effect of charter school appearances on neighboring private tutoring prevalence, we employ a comparative event study model combined with a longitudinal matching strategy to accommodate differing treatment years. In contrast to findings from other countries, we estimate that charter schools increase, rather than decrease, tutoring prevalence in the United States. We further find that the effect varies considerably based on the characteristics of the treated neighborhood: areas with the highest income, educational attainment, and proportion Asian show the greatest treatment impacts, while the areas with the least show null effects. Moreover, methodologically this investigation offers a pipeline for flexibly estimating causal effects with observational, longitudinal, geographically located data.

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Juan Esteban Carranza, Maria Marta Ferreyra, Ana Maria Gazmuri.

Short-cycle higher education programs (SCPs) form skilled human capital in two or three years and could be key to upskilling and reskilling the workforce, provided their supply responds fast and nimbly to local labor market needs. We study determinants of SCP entry and exit in Colombia for markets defined by geographic location and field of study. We show greater dynamism in the market for SCPs than bachelor’s program, with greater turnover or “churn” of programs. Exploiting data on local economic activity and employment by field of study, we find that higher education institutions open new SCPs in response to local labor market demand as well as competition and costs. SCPs are more responsive to local labor market demand than bachelor’s programs; among SCP providers, private and non-university institutions are the most responsive. While private SCP entry is deterred by the presence of competitors and responds to cost considerations, these responses are weaker among public SCPs. Further, institutions often open and close programs simultaneously within a field, perhaps reflecting capacity constraints. These findings have implications for the regulation and funding of SCP providers.

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Matthew A. Kraft, Megan Conklin, Grace Falken.

We examine the labor supply decisions of substitute teachers – a large, on-demand market with broad shortages and inequitable supply. In 2018, Chicago Public Schools implemented a targeted bonus program designed to reduce unfilled teacher absences in largely segregated Black schools with historically low substitute coverage rates. Using a regression discontinuity design, we find that incentive pay substantially improved coverage equity and raised student achievement. Changes in labor supply were concentrated among Black and Hispanic substitutes from nearby neighborhoods with experience in incentive schools. Wage elasticity estimates suggest incentives would need to be 50% of daily wages to close fill-rate gaps.

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