Current Issue: Volume 12, Issue 2 - Spring 2017

Education Finance and Policy - Volume 12, Issue 2 - Spring 2017

Presidential Essay

The Promise of Administrative Data in Education Research. David Figlio, Krzysztof Karbownik, Kjell Salvanes. Education Finance and Policy, Spring 2017, Vol. 12, No. 2: 129–136.

Thanks to extraordinary and exponential improvements in data storage and computing capacities, it is now possible to collect, manage, and analyze data in magnitudes and in manners that would have been inconceivable just a short time ago. As the world has developed this remarkable capacity to store and analyze data, so have the world's governments developed large-scale, comprehensive datafiles on tax programs, workforce information, benefit programs, health, and education. Although these data are collected for purely administrative purposes, they represent remarkable new opportunities for expanding our knowledge. We describe some of the benefits and challenges associated with the use of administrative data in education research.
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Are Student Absences Worth the Worry in U.S. Primary Schools? Seth Gershenson, Alison Jacknowitz, Andrew Brannegan. Education Finance and Policy, Spring 2017, Vol. 12, No. 2: 137–165.

Student absences are a potentially important, yet understudied, input in the educational process. Using longitudinal data from a nationally representative survey and rich administrative records from North Carolina, we investigate the relationship between student absences and academic performance. Generally, student absences are associated with modest but statistically significant decreases in academic achievement. The harmful effects of absences are approximately linear, and are two to three times larger among fourth and fifth graders in North Carolina than among kindergarten and first-grade students in the nationally representative Early Childhood Longitudinal Study. In both datasets, absences similarly reduce achievement in urban, rural, and suburban schools. In North Carolina, the harm associated with student absences is greater among both low-income students and English language learners, particularly for reading achievement. Also, in North Carolina, unexcused absences are twice as harmful as excused absences. Policy implications and directions for future research are discussed.

Extracurricular Participation, “At-Risk” Status, and the High School Dropout Decision. Laura M. Crispin. Education Finance and Policy, Spring 2017, Vol. 12, No. 2: 166–196.

I estimate the effect of extracurricular participation on the high school dropout decision with a particular focus on at-risk students. Using a sample of tenth grade students from the National Education Longitudinal Study of 1988, I jointly estimate the dropout and participation decisions (including extracurricular offerings per student), and eligibility requirements as instruments for extracurricular participation. I include an interaction between the participation and at-risk indicators in the dropout equation because past disadvantages may differentially affect at-risk students. I also estimate alternative specifications to identify the effect of participation in different types of activities. Local average treatment effect estimates range from 14 to 20 percentage points, indicating that participants are significantly less likely to drop out of high school than they would have been if unable to participate, with similar estimates for both at-risk and not-at-risk students. These findings are relevant to policy makers and administrators seeking to increase high school graduation rates and improve educational outcomes.

Screen Twice, Cut Once: Assessing the Predictive Validity of Applicant Selection Tools. Dan Goldhaber, Cyrus Grout, Nick Huntington-Klein. Education Finance and Policy, Spring 2017, Vol. 12, No. 2: 197–223.

Despite their widespread use, there is little academic evidence on whether applicant selection instruments can improve teacher hiring. We examine the relationship between two screening instruments used by Spokane Public Schools to select classroom teachers and three teacher outcomes: value added, absences, and attrition. We observe all applicants to the district (not only those who are hired), allowing us to estimate sample selection-corrected models using random tally errors and variation in the level of competition across job postings as instruments. Ratings on the screening instruments significantly predict value added in math and teacher attrition, but not absences—an increase of one standard deviation in screening scores is associated with an increase of about 0.06 standard deviations of student math achievement, and a decrease in teacher attrition of 3 percentage points. Hence the use of selection instruments appears to be a key means of improving the quality of the teacher workforce.

Does More Accurate Knowledge of Course Grade Impact Teaching Evaluation?. Donghun Cho, Joonmo Cho. Education Finance and Policy, Spring 2017, Vol. 12, No. 2: 224–240.

Students’ different standards may yield different kinds of bias, such as self-directed (higher than their past performance) bias and peer-directed (higher than their classmates) bias. Utilizing data obtained from a natural experiment where some students were able to see their grades prior to teacher evaluations, and to investigate possible sources of bias, we empirically analyzed the role of information (such as the actual grade students received in their current course and their previous grade point average), and the average grade of the course, on the student evaluation of teaching. Because bias is sensitive to the accuracy of grade information, the randomized data examined in this paper are a valuable source for estimating both self-directed and peer-directed bias. We identify the existence of the two kinds of biases and demonstrate that the influence of peer-directed bias tends to increase after the accurate information on the course grade is revealed.

Returns to Teacher Experience: Student Achievement and Motivation in Middle School. Helen F. Ladd, Lucy C. Sorensen. Education Finance and Policy, Spring 2017, Vol. 12, No. 2: 241–279.

We use rich longitudinally matched administrative data on students and teachers in North Carolina to examine the patterns of differential effectiveness by teachers’ years of experience. The paper contributes to the literature by focusing on middle school teachers and by extending the analysis to student outcomes beyond test scores. Once we control statistically for the quality of individual teachers using teacher fixed effects, we find large returns to experience for middle school teachers in the form both of higher test scores and improvements in student behavior, with the clearest behavioral effects emerging for reductions in student absenteeism. Moreover these returns extend well beyond the first few years of teaching. The paper contributes to policy debates by documenting that teachers can and do continue to learn on the job.

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