Education Policy Seminar Series - Spring 2017

For the current Education Policy Seminar Series, please visit our website.

Spring 2017

Can Successful Schools Replicate? Scaling Up Boston's Charter Sector

Sarah Cohodes, Assistant Professor of Education and Public Policy, Columbia University
Monday February 6th 2017, 12:00-1:30 PM 

Bio: Sarah Cohodes is an Assistant Professor of Education and Public Policy at Teachers College, Columbia University. Her research uses quantitative causal inference methods to evaluate programs and policies that have the potential to ameliorate achievement gaps. She is particularly interested in how young people and their families make choices about education and how school and college quality interact with those decisions. Previously, she worked in educational research for six years at the Urban Institute and the Center for Education Policy Research at Harvard University. Sarah holds a Ph.D. in Public Policy from Harvard University, an Ed.M. in Education Policy and Management from the Harvard Graduate School of Education, and a B.A. in Economics from Swarthmore College.

Abstract: In a climate of school turnarounds, charter school conversions, and new school openings, an important question is whether schools that boost student outcomes can reproduce their success at new campuses. We study a policy reform that allowed effective charter schools in Boston, Massachusetts to replicate their school models at new locations. Estimates based on randomized admission lotteries show that replicate charter schools generate large achievement gains on par with those produced by their parent campuses. The average effectiveness of Boston’s charter middle school sector increased after the reform despite a doubling of charter market share.


Making Young Citizens: Rethinking Schools’ Role in Students' Civic Development

John Holbein, Postdoctoral Research Fellow, Princeton University
Friday February 17th 2017, 12:30-2:00 PM

Bio: John Holbein is a postdoctoral research fellow at the Center for the Study of Democratic Politics at Princeton University. His subfields are political behavior, public policy, and methods for causal inference. He studies voter turnout, democratic accountability, representation, and education policy. He focuses on doing policy-relevant research. His work has been cited in a prominent federal voting rights case and has been covered by news outlets such as the Washington Post, Bloomberg, and FiveThirtyEight. 

Abstract: One of public education’s vital purposes is to help students develop into active citizens. However, civics education has long failed to help remediate stubbornly low and unequal patterns of civic participation. Leveraging a unique combination of longitudinal student surveys, school administrative records, voter registration files, and quasi- and field-experimental methods, I document how civics education has fallen short and provide insights into how schools might change their focus to better educate the next generation of active citizens. Whereas standard civics courses focus on a test-centric curriculum that teaches students facts and knowledge about government, I argue that to make active citizens schools should also focus on developing students’ so called noncognitive skills—the general abilities associated with self-regulation and social integration. These noncognitive abilities help students develop the desire to participate, reinforce their ability to follow-through once they have that desire, and allow them to avoid negative life events that make them ineligible or unable to engage in democracy. This project provides new direction for advocates of higher levels of civic participation from a more diverse electorate, and provides a heretofore-unknown additional benefit of noncognitive skill development. 



The Demand for Teacher Characteristics in the Market for Child Care: Evidence from a Field Experiment

Chris Herbst, Associate Professor, Arizona State University
Monday March 27th 2017, 12:00-1:30 PM
Video is available online

Bio: Chris M. Herbst is an Associate Professor in the School of Public Affairs and a faculty affiliate in the School Social Work in the College of Public Service and Community Solutions at Arizona State University. He is also a Research Fellow at the Institute of Labor Economics (IZA) in Bonn, Germany, and a former Visiting Scholar in the School of Public Policy at Central European University (Budapest, Hungary). His research focuses on the evaluation of public policies within the U.S. social safety net. Specifically, he seeks to understand the ways in which redistributive tax and transfer programs affect the well-being of economically disadvantaged families.

Abstract: This paper presents results from a resume audit study designed to examine teacher hiring practices in the center-based child care market. Specifically, we experimentally varied job-seeker characteristics on a large number of resumes that were submitted in response to real assistant and lead teacher job postings in 14 U.S. cities. Our results indicate that child care providers may not hire the most qualified applicants. For example, we find that although providers have a strong preference for individuals with previous work experience in early childhood education (ECE), those with more ECE experience are less likely to receive an interview request than those with less experience. We also find that individuals with bachelor’s degrees in ECE are no more likely to receive an interview than their counterparts at the associate’s level, even in the market for lead preschool-age teachers. However, our results point to the importance of states’ child care regulations in shaping hiring decisions. Providers operating in strict regulatory environments place a substantially higher value on ECE experience and education than their counterparts in lenient environments. Together, our findings shed light on the complex trade-offs made by center-based providers attempting to offer high-quality programs while earning sufficient revenue to stay in business.



Inputs, Incentives, and Complementarities in Primary Education: Experimental Evidence from Tanzania 

Isaac Mbiti, Assistant Professor of Public Policy and Economics, University of Virginia
Monday April 17th 2017, 12:00-1:30 PM

Bio: Isaac M. Mbiti is an Assistant Professor of Public Policy and Economics at the Frank Batten School of Leadership and Public Policy. Prior to his appointment at the Batten School, Mbiti was an Assistant Professor of Economics at Southern Methodist University and also served as a Martin Luther King Visiting Assistant Professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.  His research has focused broadly on African economic development with particular interests in examining the role of education policies such as free primary education and teacher performance pay programs, as well as the potential for new technologies (especially mobile phones) to spur the development process. His ongoing research projects in East and West Africa evaluate various policies that aim to improve the livelihoods of African youth through training programs.

His research has been supported by numerous agencies including the National Science Foundation, The National Institutes of Health, the International Impact Evaluation Initiative, USAID and the World Bank. He is a research affiliate at the Abdul Latif Jameel Poverty Action Lab (J-PAL) at MIT and was previously selected as a National Academy of Education/Spencer Foundation Post-Doctoral Fellow.  His publications have appeared in the American Economic Review, Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Journal: Applied Economics, and Journal of African Economies. He has also authored several policy reports for the Kenyan Government, the World Bank and NGOs, such as the International Rescue Committee. He received his Ph.D. in economics from Brown University.

Abstract: Recent nationwide assessments have documented the low levels of learning in Tanzanian schools. These low levels of learning are driven in part by limited accountability in the education system, which is reflected in the frequent absence of teachers from schools. This is further compounded by the resource constraints that schools face. In this study we conduct a randomized experiment to examine the efficacy of increasing resources to schools relative to increasing teacher incentives. Specifically, we compare the student learning outcomes between four different interventions: one in which we provide schools with extra resources through capitation (or per pupil) grants, one in which we provide teachers with a bonus based on the performance of their students in an externally administered exam, one in which schools received both programs, and the control group which received no support. Overall, we find limited evidence that solely providing resources improves learning outcomes, while we do find some evidence that incentives improve learning outcomes, especially when coupled with extra resources.


Does Repeating a Grade Make Students (and Parents) Happier? Regression Discontinuity Evidence from New York City

Jonah Rockoff, Associate Professor, Columbia Business School
Friday April 21st 2017, 12:00-1:30 PM

Bio: Jonah E. Rockoff is an Associate Professor of Business at the Columbia Graduate School of Business and a Research Associate at the National Bureau of Economic Research. Professor Rockoff’s interests center on the finance and management of public schools. His most recent research focuses on systems for hiring new teachers, the effects of No Child Left Behind on students and schools, the impact of removing school desegregation orders, and how primary school teachers affect students’ outcomes in early adulthood. He received his Ph.D. in Economics from Harvard University and a B.A. in Economics from Amherst College.

Abstract: When a student’s academic knowledge or preparation is well below that of his or her age group, a common policy response is to have that student repeat a grade level and join the following, younger cohort. Evaluating the impacts of grade retention is made complicated by the potential incomparability of (1) retained students to promoted peers and (2) outcomes measured differently across grade levels. In this paper, we use novel data from New York City to ask whether parents’ and students’ self-reported educational experiences are significantly affected by grade retention. We take advantage of surveys that ask the same questions regardless of a student’s grade level, and implement a regression discontinuity approach, identifying causal effects on students retained due to missed cutoffs on math and English exams. We find that parental satisfaction with the quality of their child’s education and students’ sense of personal safety both improve significantly over the three years we can observe from the time of retention. Our findings suggest that the stringent and somewhat controversial test-based retention policies enacted in New York had positive effects on the educational experience of these marginal students.