You can learn

Kevin Lewis

September 03, 2019

A national experiment reveals where a growth mindset improves achievement
David Yeager et al.
Nature, forthcoming

A global priority for the behavioural sciences is to develop cost-effective, scalable interventions that could improve the academic outcomes of adolescents at a population level, but no such interventions have so far been evaluated in a population-generalizable sample. Here we show that a short (less than one hour), online growth mindset intervention - which teaches that intellectual abilities can be developed - improved grades among lower-achieving students and increased overall enrolment to advanced mathematics courses in a nationally representative sample of students in secondary education in the United States. Notably, the study identified school contexts that sustained the effects of the growth mindset intervention: the intervention changed grades when peer norms aligned with the messages of the intervention. Confidence in the conclusions of this study comes from independent data collection and processing, pre-registration of analyses, and corroboration of results by a blinded Bayesian analysis.

Schoolhouse Democracy: Public Opinion and Education Spending in the States
David Houston
Educational Researcher, forthcoming

Using new estimates of state-level public opinion, I explore the relationship between support for increased education spending and statewide per-pupil expenditures from 1986 to 2013. In the 1980s, there was a modest, positive relationship between public opinion and actual spending: States with greater support for increased education spending tended to have slightly higher per pupil expenditures. Over the next three decades, this relationship reversed. States with relatively low per-pupil expenditures tended to increase their spending at a slower rate despite steady growth in support for more spending. As a result, public opinion and education spending became inversely related. By the end of the time series, states with greater support for increased education spending tended to spend less per pupil. The changing distribution of local, state, and federal sources of education spending partially explains this pattern. As federal education expenditures rose, some states spent proportionally less from state and local sources, resulting in smaller overall spending increases in those states.

Government Privatization and Political Participation: The Case of Charter Schools
Jason Cook et al.
Journal of Politics, forthcoming

Governments around the world have privatized public services in the name of efficiency and citizen empowerment, but some argue that privatization could also affect citizen participation in democratic governance. We explore this possibility by estimating the impact of charter schools (which are publicly funded but privately operated) on school district elections. The analysis indicates that the enrollment of district students in charter schools reduced the number of votes cast in district school board contests and, correspondingly, reduced turnout in the odd-year elections in which those contests are held. This impact is concentrated in districts that serve low-achieving, impoverished, and minority students, leading to a modest decline in the share of voters in those districts who are black and who have children. There is little evidence that charter school expansion affected the outcomes of school board elections or turnout in other elections.

Reappraising academic and social adversity improves middle school students’ academic achievement, behavior, and well-being
Geoffrey Borman et al.
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 13 August 2019, Pages 16286-16291

The period of early adolescence is characterized by dramatic changes, simultaneously affecting physiological, psychological, social, and cognitive development. The physical transition from elementary to middle school can exacerbate the stress and adversity experienced during this critical life stage. Middle school students often struggle to find social and emotional support, and many students experience a decreased sense of belonging in school, diverting students from promising academic and career trajectories. Drawing on psychological insights for promoting belonging, we fielded a brief intervention designed to help students reappraise concerns about fitting in at the start of middle school as both temporary and normal. We conducted a district-wide double-blind experimental study of this approach with middle school students (n = 1,304). Compared with the control condition activities, the intervention reduced sixth-grade disciplinary incidents across the district by 34%, increased attendance by 12%, and reduced the number of failing grades by 18%. Differences in benefits across demographic groups were not statistically significant, but some impacts were descriptively larger for historically underserved minority students and boys. A mediational analysis suggested 80% of long-term intervention effects on students’ grade point averages were accounted for by changes in students’ attitudes and behaviors. These results demonstrate the long-term benefits of psychologically reappraising stressful experiences during critical transitions and the psychological and behavioral mechanisms that support them. Furthermore, this brief intervention is a highly cost-effective and scalable approach that schools may use to help address the troubling decline in positive attitudes and academic outcomes typically accompanying adolescence and the middle school transition.

The effect of increased funding on student achievement: Evidence from Texas's small district adjustment
Daniel Kreisman & Matthew Steinberg
Journal of Public Economics, August 2019, Pages 118-141

We leverage an obscure set of rules in Texas's school funding formula granting some districts additional revenue as a function of size and sparsity. We use variation from kinks and discontinuities in this formula to ask how districts spend additional discretionary funds, and whether these improve student outcomes. A $1000 annual increase in foundation funding, or 10% increase in expenditures, yields a 0.1 s.d. increase in reading scores and a near 0.08 increase in math. In addition dropout rates decline, graduation rates marginally increase, as does college enrollment and to a smaller degree graduation. These gains accrue in later grades and largely among poorer districts. An analysis of budget allocations reveals that additional funding only marginally affects budget shares.

The Impact of Texas “Wealth Equalization” Program on the Academic Performance of Poor and Wealthy Schools
Hassan Tajalli
Urban Review, September 2019, Pages 404-423

The purpose of this study is to examine the propositions of “money matters/doesn’t matter” in a zero-sum public school system. Specifically, this study seeks to assess the impact of Texas Wealth Equalization Program on the academic performance of contributing wealthy school districts and the receiving poor school districts. Although the primary interest of this study is the aforementioned two sets of school districts, the study also incorporates a set of intermediate districts into the analysis in order to control for the possible threat of history. The study uses three state and national assessment tools to measure school performance. The results show that answer to the propositions of “money matters/doesn’t matter” is contextual. Controlling for the possible threat of history, the findings show that transfer of nearly $3.4 billion from wealthy to poor school districts did not result in lower academic achievement among the students of rich school districts while it resulted in modest performance improvement in poor districts. Policy implications of Wealth Equalization are discussed.

Reducing Frictions in College Admissions: Evidence from the Common Application
Brian Knight & Nathan Schiff
NBER Working Paper, August 2019

College admissions in the U.S. is decentralized, with students applying separately to each school. This creates frictions in the college admissions process and, if substantial, might ultimately limit student choice. In this paper, we study the introduction of the Common Application (CA) platform, under which students submit a single application to all member schools, potentially reducing frictions and increasing student choice. We first document that joining the CA increases the number of applications received by schools, consistent with reduced frictions. Joining the CA also reduces the yield on accepted students, consistent with increased student choice, and institutions respond to the reduced yield by admitting more students. In line with these findings, we document that the CA has accelerated geographic integration: upon joining, schools attract more foreign students and more out-of-state students, especially from other states with significant CA membership, consistent with network effects. Finally, we find some evidence that joining the CA increases freshmen SAT scores. If so, and given that CA members tend to be more selective institutions, the CA has contributed to stratification, the widening gap between more selective and less selective schools.

A large-scale field experiment shows giving advice improves academic outcomes for the advisor
Lauren Eskreis-Winkler et al.
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 23 July 2019, Pages 14808-14810

Common sense suggests that people struggling to achieve their goals benefit from receiving motivational advice. What if the reverse is true? In a preregistered field experiment, we tested whether giving motivational advice raises academic achievement for the advisor. We randomly assigned n = 1,982 high school students to a treatment condition, in which they gave motivational advice (e.g., how to stop procrastinating) to younger students, or to a control condition. Advice givers earned higher report card grades in both math and a self-selected target class over an academic quarter. This psychologically wise advice-giving nudge, which has relevance for policy and practice, suggests a valuable approach to improving achievement: one that puts people in a position to give.

A Deeper Look at Bar Success: The Relationship Between Law Student Success, Academic Performance, and Student Characteristics
Amy Farley et al.
Journal of Empirical Legal Studies, September 2019, Pages 605-629

In recent years, law schools have experienced a decline in enrollment and bar passage, and legal education has been challenged to understand this new phenomenon and conduct research that can inform practices and policies regarding law student success. This article presents findings from research conducted at the University of Cincinnati College of Law, a large, midwestern public university, which aimed to investigate which factors and student characteristics contribute to bar passage within the home jurisdiction (Ohio). Results suggest bar passage can be predicted by a wide battery of variables, most notably student performance during the law school course of study. Despite some prior literature that suggests otherwise, however, LSAT and undergraduate GPA were only weakly predictive of first‐time bar passage among admitted students: the best prelaw model based on student admissions and demographic data identified just over one‐third of the students who ultimately failed the bar on the first attempt. Information from the first year of law school - even just performance in one first semester course - explained significantly more variation in bar passage. Furthermore, data from beyond the first year of legal study, including upper‐level course taking in bar‐tested subjects, enriched the predictive power of the model, enabling us to predict 78 percent of students who failed the bar compared to just 58 percent after the first year. These preliminary results provide important insights into bar passage, particularly given the increased public scrutiny around incoming student credentials, bar success, and law school performance and accreditation.

Small changes, big gains: A curriculum-wide study of teaching practices and student learning in undergraduate biology
Laura Weir et al.
PLoS ONE, August 2019

A growing body of evidence has shown that active learning has a considerable advantage over traditional lecture for student learning in undergraduate STEM classes, but there have been few large-scale studies to identify the specific types of activities that have the greatest impact on learning. We therefore undertook a large-scale, curriculum-wide study to investigate the effects of time spent on a variety of classroom activities on learning gains. We quantified classroom practices and related these to student learning, assessed using diagnostic tests written by over 3700 students, across 31 undergraduate biology classes at a research-intensive university in the Pacific Northwest. The most significant positive predictor of learning gains was the use of group work, supporting the findings of previous studies. Strikingly, we found that the addition of worksheets as an active learning tool for in-class group activities had the strongest impact on diagnostic test scores. This particular low-tech activity promotes student collaboration, develops problem solving skills, and can be used to inform the instructor about what students are struggling with, thus providing opportunities for valuable and timely feedback. Overall, our results indicate that group activities with low barriers to entry, such as worksheets, can result in significant learning gains in undergraduate science.

Public and Private Employer Learning: Evidence from the Adoption of Teacher Value-Added
Michael Bates
Journal of Labor Economics, forthcoming

Informational asymmetries between employers may inhibit optimal worker mobility. However, researchers rarely observe shocks to employers’ information. I exploit two school districts’ adoptions of value-added (VA) measures of teacher effectiveness, informational shocks to some, but not all, employers, to provide direct tests of asymmetric employer learning. I develop a learning model and test its predictions for teacher mobility. I find that adopting VA increases within-district mobility of high-VA teachers, while low-VA teachers move out-of-district to uninformed principals. These patterns are consistent with asymmetric employer learning. This sorting from widespread VA adoption exacerbates inequality in access to effective teaching.

Teacher Labor Market Responses to Statewide Reform: Evidence From Michigan
Eric Brunner et al.
Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis, forthcoming

We examine the effect of Michigan’s 2011 reforms to teacher evaluation and tenure policies on teacher retention. Our data are drawn from administrative records containing the population of public school employees from 2005-2006 through 2014-2015. To identify the causal effects of these reforms on teacher attrition, we utilize a difference-in-differences (DD) strategy that compares the exit rates of teachers with the exit rates of other professional staff in the same school districts who were not affected by the policy changes. We find that, on average, Michigan’s teacher reforms had little impact on teacher attrition overall. However, further analyses provide strong evidence that early-career teachers assigned to hard-to-staff districts were more likely to exit post-reform.

The Returns to Education at Community Colleges: New Evidence from the Education Longitudinal Survey
Dave Marcotte
Education Finance and Policy, forthcoming

I use nationally representative data from the Education Longitudinal Survey (ELS) to update the literature on returns to community college education. I compare the experiences of the ELS cohort that graduated high school in 2004 with those of the National Education Longitudinal Survey (NELS) cohort, that graduated high school more than a decade earlier, in 1992. I estimate that community college students from the ELS cohort were more likely to be employed, and that those who were, earned about 21 percent more than comparable peers with only a high school education. This estimate is at least as large as that observed for the NELS cohort, though I find some evidence that the value of an associate's degree is smaller for the more recent cohort. I compare these results with those from the burgeoning body of research using state administrative data to answer similar questions.

College Remediation Goes Back to High School: Evidence from a Statewide Program in Tennessee
Thomas Kane et al.
NBER Working Paper, August 2019

Many U.S. students arrive on college campus lacking the skills expected for college-level work. As state leaders seek to increase postsecondary enrollment and completion, public colleges have sought to lessen the delays created by remedial course requirements. Tennessee has taken a novel approach by allowing students to complete their remediation requirements in high school. Using both a difference-in-differences and a regression discontinuity design, we evaluate the program’s impact on college enrollment and credit accumulation, finding that the program boosted enrollment in college-level math during the first year of college and allowed students to earn a modest 4.5 additional college credits by their second year. We also report the first causal evidence on remediation's impact on students' math skills, finding that the program did not improve students’ math achievement, nor boost students’ chances of passing college math. Our findings cast doubt on the effectiveness of the current model of remediation - whether in high school or college - in improving students’ math skills. They also suggest that the time cost of remediation - whether pre-requisite or co-requisite remediation - is not the primary barrier causing low degree completion for students with weak math preparation.

The Organizational Ecology of College Affordability: Research Activity, State Grant Aid Policies, and Student Debt at U.S. Public Universities
Charlie Eaton et al.
Socius: Sociological Research for a Dynamic World, August 2019

Sociologists have theorized U.S. universities as a heterogenous organizational ecology. We use this lens to compare student debt and college prices for low-income students across public universities according to their research intensiveness and varied state grant aid policies. We show that students at research-intensive public universities have had an easier time repaying student loans than at other schools. By linking multiple data sets, we also provide the first comprehensive assessment for all 50 states of state-level need-based grant aid programs, which might alleviate loan repayment challenges. We find large disparities. California, Washington, Wyoming, and New Jersey spent more than $4,000 on aid per low-income student in 2015, more than the federal expenditure on Pell Grants for their state. Most states spend little in comparison. Contra the Bennett hypothesis, we also find that state need-based aid is strongly associated with both lower net prices and lower student loan nonrepayment rates.

How Much Does Merit Aid Actually Matter? Revisiting Merit Aid and College Enrollment When Some Students “Come Anyway”
Matthew Birch & Robert Rosenman
Research in Higher Education, September 2019, Pages 760-802

Merit aid is an increasingly important component of college scholarships, but policymakers are concerned that merit aid is often given to students who would enroll anyway. As a baseline we use a regression discontinuity (RD) framework to test an institution-level merit aid program at a public research university and find that the merit aid program successfully increases the likelihood of enrollment. We then add to the RD a structure that accounts for the probability that specific students would enroll (or not enroll) with certainty. This richer model, which allows us to identify students who are less certain about enrolling, indicates the merit aid is much more effective in convincing such students to enroll.

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