Teach and Test

Kevin Lewis

February 15, 2011

Under Pressure: Job Security, Resource Allocation, and Productivity in Schools Under NCLB

Randall Reback, Jonah Rockoff & Heather Schwartz
NBER Working Paper, January 2011

The most sweeping federal education law in decades, the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act, requires states to administer standardized exams and to punish schools that do not make Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) for the fraction of students passing these exams. While the literature on school accountability is well-established, there exists no nationwide study of the strong short-term incentives created by NCLB for schools on the margin of failing AYP. We assemble the first comprehensive, national, school-level dataset concerning detailed performance measures used to calculate AYP, and demonstrate that idiosyncrasies in state policies create numerous cases where schools near the margin for satisfying their own state's AYP requirements would have almost certainly failed or almost certainly made AYP if they were located in other states. Using this variation as a means of identification, we examine the impact of NCLB on the behavior of school personnel and students' academic achievement in nationally representative samples. We find that accountability pressure from NCLB lowers teachers' perceptions of job security and causes untenured teachers in high-stakes grades to work longer hours than their peers. We also find that NCLB pressure has either neutral or positive effects on students' enjoyment of learning and their achievement gains on low-stakes exams in reading, math, and science.


School accountability laws and the consumption of psychostimulants

Farasat Bokhari & Helen Schneider
Journal of Health Economics, forthcoming

Over the past decade, several states introduced varying degrees of accountability systems for schools, which became federal law with the passage of the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001. The intent of these accountability laws was to improve academic performance and to make school quality more observable. Nonetheless, schools have reacted to these pressures in several different ways, some of which were not intended. We make use of the variation across states and over time in specific provisions of these accountability laws and find that accountability pressures affect medical diagnoses and subsequent treatment options of school aged children. Specifically, children in states with more stringent accountability laws are more likely to be diagnosed with Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) and consequently prescribed psychostimulant drugs for controlling the symptoms. However, conditional on diagnosis, accountability laws do not further change the probability of receiving medication therapy.


The Quality vs. the Quantity of Schooling: What Drives Economic Growth?

Theodore Breton
Economics of Education Review, forthcoming

This paper challenges Hanushek and Woessmann's [2008] contention that the quality and not the quantity of schooling determines a nation's rate of economic growth. I first show that their statistical analysis is flawed. I then show that when a nation's average test scores and average schooling attainment are included in a national income model, both measures explain income differences, but schooling attainment has greater statistical significance. The high correlation between a nation's average schooling attainment, cumulative investment in schooling, and average tests scores indicates that average schooling attainment implicitly measures the quality as well as the quantity of schooling.


Estimating the Returns to Urban Boarding Schools: Evidence from SEED

Vilsa Curto & Roland Fryer
NBER Working Paper, January 2011

The SEED schools, which combine a "No Excuses'' charter model with a five-day-a-week boarding program, are America's only urban public boarding schools for the poor. We provide the first causal estimate of the impact of attending SEED schools on academic achievement, with the goal of understanding whether changing a student's environment through boarding is a cost-effective strategy to increase achievement among the poor. Using admission lotteries, we show that attending a SEED school increases achievement by 0.198 standard deviations in reading and 0.230 standard deviations in math, per year of attendance. Despite these relatively large impacts, the return on investment in SEED is less than five percent due to the substantial costs of boarding. Similar "No Excuses'' charter schools -- without a boarding option -- have a return on investment of over eighteen percent.


Pricing in the Not-for-Profit Sector: Can Wealth Growth at American Colleges Explain Chronic Tuition Increases?

Pablo Peña
Journal of Human Capital, Fall 2010, Pages 242-273

In the period 1980-2005 tuition at American private colleges more than doubled in real terms, and these institutions grew much wealthier. I develop a model that establishes conditions under which increases in colleges' wealth cause higher tuition. The empirical analysis supports the hypothesis that growth in colleges' wealth is one of the reasons behind rapid tuition growth, although it does not provide accurate estimates of the elasticity of tuition to college wealth. The result is consistent with previous studies that find that part of the increase in colleges' expenditures over the 1980s and 1990s can be attributed to quality improvement.


Representation versus assimilation: How do preferences in college admissions affect social interactions?

Peter Arcidiacono, Shakeeb Khan & Jacob Vigdor
Journal of Public Economics, February 2011, Pages 1-15

Given the existence of non-selective universities, the question of whether to employ racial preferences in college admissions reduces to one of optimal allocation of a finite resource: students who are members of under-represented racial or ethnic groups. In this paper, we assess recent legal arguments that racial preferences at selective colleges promote meaningful on-campus interracial interaction. As such, we model such interaction as a function of minority representation and, in some cases, perceived social similarity between students of different races. We estimate a structural model to capture these effects and use the results to trace out the net effects of racial preferences on population rates of interracial contact. The results suggest that the interaction-maximizing degree of racial preference, while positive, is significantly weaker than that observed in practice.


The Effect of Classmate Characteristics on Post-secondary Outcomes: Evidence from the Add Health

Robert Bifulco, Jason Fletcher & Stephen Ross
American Economic Journal: Economic Policy, February 2011, Pages 25-53

This paper uses a within-school/across-cohort design to present new evidence of the effects of high school classmate characteristics on a wide range of post-secondary outcomes. We find that increases in the percent of classmates with college-educated mothers decreases the likelihood of dropping out and increases the likelihood of attending college, despite showing no impact on a range of in-school achievement, attitudes, and behaviors. The percent of students from disadvantaged minority groups does not show any effects on post-secondary outcomes, but is associated with students reporting less caring student-teacher relationships and increased prevalence of some undesirable student behaviors during high school.


Added Value Measures in Education Show Genetic as Well as Environmental Influence

Claire Haworth, Kathryn Asbury, Philip Dale & Robert Plomin
PLoS ONE, February 2011, e16006

Does achievement independent of ability or previous attainment provide a purer measure of the added value of school? In a study of 4000 pairs of 12-year-old twins in the UK, we measured achievement with year-long teacher assessments as well as tests. Raw achievement shows moderate heritability (about 50%) and modest shared environmental influences (25%). Unexpectedly, we show that for indices of the added value of school, genetic influences remain moderate (around 50%), and the shared (school) environment is less important (about 12%). The pervasiveness of genetic influence in how and how much children learn is compatible with an active view of learning in which children create their own educational experiences in part on the basis of their genetic propensities.


Public opinion on bilingual education in Colorado and Massachusetts

Jennifer Fitzgerald
Social Science Journal, forthcoming

In 2002, voters in Massachusetts and Colorado faced identical ballot initiatives to remove bilingual education programs from the public schools. The measure passed in Massachusetts and failed in Colorado. This paper investigates the debates over the issue in these two states. It provides insight into how people reason with respect to minority politics. It also helps to make sense of the states' divergent outcomes. Content analysis of letters-to-the-editor reveals that voters are motivated by ethnic competition and fiscal concerns, as existing theories would predict. Additionally, citizens debate which kinds of programs work best for English learners and take stands on how these youngsters can be successful in life. The inter-state comparison reveals that a major factor distinguishing the two statewide debates was ethnic paternalism, a logic often used by members of ethnic majorities to justify restrictive policy decisions on the basis of what they think is best for the affected population. The analysis shows that themes related to doing what is best for English learners were significantly more salient in Massachusetts than Colorado. This finding implies that where public debate over this issue is framed in terms of helping minority youth, the fate of bilingual education is not secure.


Mentoring in Schools: An Impact Study of Big Brothers Big Sisters School-Based Mentoring

Carla Herrera, Jean Baldwin Grossman, Tina Kauh & Jennifer McMaken
Child Development, January/February 2011, Pages 346-361

This random assignment impact study of Big Brothers Big Sisters School-Based Mentoring involved 1,139 9- to 16-year-old students in 10 cities nationwide. Youth were randomly assigned to either a treatment group (receiving mentoring) or a control group (receiving no mentoring) and were followed for 1.5 school years. At the end of the first school year, relative to the control group, mentored youth performed better academically, had more positive perceptions of their own academic abilities, and were more likely to report having a "special adult" in their lives. However, they did not show improvements in classroom effort, global self-worth, relationships with parents, teachers or peers, or rates of problem behavior. Academic improvements were also not sustained into the second school year.


High School and Women's Life Course: Curriculum Tracking, Race/Ethnicity, and Welfare Receipt

Irenee Beattie
Journal of Poverty, January 2011, Pages 65-87

Life course scholarship considers how institutional contexts, such as schools, influence adolescent development. Likewise, educational scholars examine how high school experiences influence nonacademic life course outcomes. This study connects these disparate research areas to determine how high school curricular tracks relate to racial/ethnic differences in welfare dynamics. Using National Longitudinal Survey of Youth (1979) data, the author finds that college preparatory coursework provides greater benefits to White women than to Black and Latina women in helping them avoid early welfare receipt. This benefit accrues largely through lowering their chances of dropping out of high school. Theoretical implications and relevance to the current policy environment are discussed.


Inclusion and Graduation Rates: What Are the Outcomes?

Janet Goodman et al.
Journal of Disability Policy Studies, March 2011, Pages 241-252

In response to federal and state mandates, students with disabilities increasingly are being educated in more inclusive settings. Although accountability related to state curriculum standards and standardized test scores is important, graduation rates may be the critical factor in deciding whether current educational policy is resulting in successful outcomes for students. This study examined the records of 67,749 students with mild disabilities in Georgia during a 6-year period to determine the effects of inclusion (i.e., the amount of time spent in general education classrooms) on graduation rates. Results indicated a 62% increase in the percentage rate in inclusion for students with mild disabilities, while graduation rates for students with mild disabilities have remained stable (+0.4%) at less than 30%.


from the


A weekly newsletter with free essays from past issues of National Affairs and The Public Interest that shed light on the week's pressing issues.


to your National Affairs subscriber account.

Already a subscriber? Activate your account.


Unlimited access to intelligent essays on the nation’s affairs.

Subscribe to National Affairs.