Current Issue: Volume 14, Issue 1, Winter 2019

Education Finance and Policy - Volume 14, Issue 2, Spring 2019


The Effects of Universal Preschool on Grade Retention. Luke C. Miller and Daphna Bassok. Education Finance and Policy Spring 2019, Vol. 14, No. 2, pp. 149–177

Nationwide, the percentage of four-year-olds enrolled in state-supported preschool programs has more than doubled since the early 2000s as states dramatically increased their investments in early childhood education. Florida's Voluntary Pre-kindergarten Program (VPK), which began in 2005, has been a national leader with respect to preschool access. This paper provides the first evidence of the program's impacts. We measure the effect of VPK participation on the likelihood that children are retained at any point between kindergarten and third grade. Using an instrumental variables approach, we leverage local program expansion and detailed student-level data on eight cohorts of children, four of which were of preschool age in the years before VPK was implemented and four of which had access to VPK programs. The results indicate that VPK did not lead to changes in the likelihood that children complete the third grade without ever being retained. We do find, however, that VPK led to a change in the timing of retention. Specifically, the program led to a drop in the likelihood that children were retained during the kindergarten year, but this drop was counteracted by increases in retention in subsequent school years. Implications for policy are discussed.

How Much Regulation? A Fuzzy Regression Discontinuity Analysis of Student Literacy Skills in Prekindergarten vs. Transitional Kindergarten. Christopher Doss. Education Finance and Policy Spring 2019, Vol. 14, No. 2, pp. 178–209

A growing body of research provides evidence that quality early childhood experiences can affect a host of life outcomes. Equally well documented is the variation in the quality of prekindergarten (pre-K) programs offered to children. In this study, I use a fuzzy regression discontinuity approach to evaluate the efficacy of transitional kindergarten (TK) on student outcomes in the San Francisco Unified School District. TK is a highly regulated, state-funded, early education program. Importantly, universal pre-K was already established in San Francisco, making this study a comparison of pre-K opportunities. This study tests whether a more highly regulated pre-K program, situated solely in schools, can provide benefits to young five-year-olds over a modern, robust universal pre-K market. I find that students who attended TK outperform their peers on a variety of foundational literacy skills, with some evidence the gains are larger for minority children. TK, however, had little effect on the rate of absences in kindergarten and first grade.

Estimating the Relationship Between Preschool Attendance and Kindergarten Science Achievement: Implications for Early Science Achievement Gaps. F. Chris Curran. Education Finance and Policy Spring 2019, Vol. 14, No. 2, pp. 210–241

Recent evidence demonstrates that disparities by race/ethnicity and socioeconomic status in science achievement are present in the earliest grades of school. Preschool represents one potential policy solution; however, little research has explored the relationship between preschool attendance and science outcomes. This study examines whether preschool participation may improve science outcomes overall and reduce science achievement gaps by race/ethnicity, gender, and socioeconomic status. Using data from the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study of 2011, this study uses school and classroom fixed effects models with a robust set of controls to estimate the relationship between preschool attendance and early science outcomes. Results suggest that attending preschool is predictive of higher teacher-rated science ability in the fall of kindergarten but that preschool is not predictive of higher science achievement in the spring of kindergarten. The relationship is not found to consistently differ by student race, socioeconomic status, or gender, though descriptive results demonstrate that subgroups have different patterns of preschool attendance. Implications for policy and practice are discussed.

Keeping Kids in School: The Long-Term Effects of Extending Compulsory Education. Mahmoud A. A. Elsayed. Education Finance and Policy Spring 2019, Vol. 14, No. 2, pp. 242–271

This paper uses a natural experiment from Egypt to examine the effect of extending compulsory schooling on long-term educational and labor market outcomes. Beginning in school year 2004–05, the Egyptian government extended primary education from five to six years, moving from an eight-year compulsory schooling system to a nine-year system. Using a regression discontinuity design, I examine whether the compulsory schooling expansion affects years of schooling, literacy and cognitive skills, post-primary attendance, and labor market outcomes of individuals born just around the 1992 school entry cutoff. The results suggest that an extra year of compulsory education increases total years of schooling by 0.6 to 0.8 years. This effect, however, is concentrated among male individuals. In particular, I find that the school reform increases the schooling gap between male and female students by somewhere between 0.30 and 0.48 years. I also find no effect of expanding compulsory education on individuals’ literacy skills, schooling beyond the primary education level, or labor market outcomes. There is some evidence, however, that the school reform has improved reading and self-reported writing skills among male individuals.

Workplace Support and Diversity in the Market for Public School Teachers. Steven Bednar and Dora Gicheva. Education Finance and Policy Spring 2019, Vol. 14, No. 2, pp. 272–297

Mentoring, and to a greater extent support from high-level administrators, has been shown to decrease worker turnover in general, but little is known about its differential impact on minority workers. Utilizing four waves of the Schools and Staffing Survey, we find that administrative support is most strongly associated with retention for minority teachers working in schools where minorities are underrepresented. This effect is pronounced for teachers new to the profession and those in schools with more students from low-income families or located in rural areas. The results indicate that workplace support is essential in maintaining or growing minority representation in relatively less-diverse organizations.

The Great Recession and Public Education. William N. Evans, Robert M. Schwab, and Kathryn L. Wagner. Education Finance and Policy Spring 2019, Vol. 14, No. 2, pp. 298–326

We examine the impact of the Great Recession on public education finance and employment. Five major themes emerge from our work. First, nearly 300,000 school employees lost their jobs. Second, schools that were heavily dependent financially on state governments were particularly vulnerable to the recession. Third, local revenues from the property tax actually increased during the recession, primarily because millage rates rose in response to declining property values. Fourth, inequality in school spending rose sharply during the Great Recession. We argue, however, that we need to be very cautious about this result. School spending inequality has risen steadily since 2000; the trend in inequality we see in the 2008–13 period is very similar to the trend we see in the 2000–08 period. Fifth, the federal government's efforts to shield education from some of the worst effects of the recession achieved their major goal.

Cross-Subsidization of Teacher Pension Costs: The Case of California. Robert M. Costrell and Josh McGee. Education Finance and Policy Spring 2019, Vol. 14, No. 2, pp. 327–354

The value of pension benefits varies widely, by a teacher's age of entry and exit. This variation is masked by the uniform rate of annual contributions, as a percent of pay, to fund benefits for all. For the first time, we unmask that variation by calculating annual costs at the individual level. In California, we find that the value of a teacher's benefits ranges from about 4 to 22 percent of pay, and exhibits some idiosyncratic patterns, as is endemic to traditional pension plans. The variation in individual cost rates generates an extensive but hidden array of cross-subsidies, as winners receive benefits worth more than the uniform contribution rate, and losers receive less. Almost two thirds of all entering teachers, past and present, are losers in California. By contrast, a prominently invoked study finds that nearly all active teachers are winners there. That result is shown to be highly skewed by excluding the losses of prior entrants who left early, thereby violating the funding fact that the gains and losses of winners and losers must offset each other. Our main policy conclusion is that cash balance plans can rationalize or eliminate the current system of cross-subsidies and provide the transparency lacking in traditional plans.

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