November 2019

How Summer Youth Employment Programs Impact Academic Outcomes

Alicia Modestino
Associate Professor of Public Policy and Urban Affairs and Economics
Northeastern University

Monday, November 18th
617 Library Place

Under the 2015 Every Student Succeeds Act, states have focused on reducing chronic absenteeism to close achievement gaps. We provide experimental evidence regarding the impact of Summer Youth Employment Programs (SYEPs) on secondary school outcomes. We find that the Boston SYEP increases attendance after participation, decreasing chronic absenteeism by 27 percent. We also present new evidence that SYEPs reduce dropout by 2.6 percentage points and raise graduation rates by 6.1 percentage points. These outcomes are correlated with increasing aspirations to attend college, gaining basic work habits, and improving social skills. A back-of-the-envelope calculation suggests a benefit-to-cost ratio of 4-to-1.

Alicia Sasser Modestino is an Associate Professor with appointments in the School of Public Policy and Urban Affairs and the Department of Economics at Northeastern University. Since 2015, Dr. Modestino has also served as the Associate Director of the Dukakis Center for Urban and Regional Policy. She is also a nonresident fellow at the Brookings Metropolitan Policy Program and an invited researcher of the Abdul Latif Jameel Poverty Action Lab (J-PAL) at MIT. Previously, Modestino was a Senior Economist at the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston where she led numerous research projects on regional economic and policy issues. Dr. Modestino’s current research focuses on labor and health economics including changing skill requirements, youth development, healthcare, housing, and migration. Modestino holds both a master’s degree and a Ph.D. in Economics from Harvard University, where she also served as a doctoral fellow in the Inequality and Social Policy Program at the Kennedy School of Government.

October 2019

“Increasing Access to Selective High Schools through Place-based Affirmative Action: Unintended Consequences”

Lisa Barrow
Senior Economist and Research Advisor
Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago

Monday, October 28th
Library Place 617

We investigate whether elite Chicago public high schools differentially benefit high-achieving students from more and less affluent neighborhoods. Chicago’s place-based affirmative action policy allocates seats based on achievement and neighborhood socioeconomic status (SES). Using regression discontinuity design, we find that these schools do not raise test scores overall, but students are generally more positive about their high school experiences. For students from low-SES neighborhoods, we estimate negative effects on grades and the probability of attending a selective college. We present suggestive evidence that these findings for students from low-SES neighborhoods are driven by the negative effect of relative achievement ranking.

Lisa Barrow is a Senior Economist and Research Advisor at the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago and Affiliated Researcher at the University of Chicago Consortium on School Research. Her research focuses on a variety of education issues, including the impact of attending a selective high school on student outcomes, a randomized evaluation of computer-aided algebra instruction in large urban school districts, and evaluations of performance-based scholarship impacts on academic outcomes and student time use at the college level. Her prior research on school choice, education production, and the earned income tax credit has appeared in numerous economic and policy journals. Barrow has also been a visiting assistant professor at the School of Industrial and Labor Relations at Cornell University and a visiting lecturer at the Irving B. Harris School of Public Policy at the University of Chicago. Barrow received a B.A. in economics from Carleton College and M.A. and Ph.D. degrees in economics from Princeton University.

May 2019

“Online Courses and High School Student Experiences

Cassandra Hart
Associate Professor of Education Policy
University of California, Davis

Wednesday, May 29th
617 Library Place

This talk explores several facets of online course-taking for high school students. A first set of analyses examines performance outcomes for high school students taking online courses in Florida. These analyses use fixed effects models to estimate differences in contemporaneous and downstream academic outcomes for students who take courses virtually and face-to-face—both for initial attempts and for credit recovery. We find that while contemporaneous outcomes are positive for virtual students in both settings, downstream outcomes vary by attempt type. For first-time course takers, virtual course taking is associated with decreases in the likelihood of taking and passing follow-on courses and in graduation readiness (based on a proxy measure). For credit recovery students, virtual course taking is associated with an increased likelihood of taking and passing follow-on courses and being in line for graduation. A second set of analyses looks descriptively at the extent to which online course offerings extend, rather than replace, the course offerings of brick-and-mortar high schools, and examines the characteristics associated with these different uses of online courses.

Cassandra Hart is an associate professor of education policy at the University of California, Davis. Hart’s research has focused on school choice programs, effects of online education on student outcomes, and effects on students of exposure to demographically similar teachers. Her research has been published in education and economics journals including Education Finance and Policy, Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis, and American Economic Journal: Applied Economics. Hart received her PhD in Human Development and Social Policy from Northwestern University in 2011.

“Moving From What Works To What Replicates:
A New Framework for Evidence-Based Decision-Making

Vivian Wong
Assistant Professor of Research, Statistics, and Evaluation
University of Virginia

Monday, May 20th
Library Place 617

Given the central role of replication in the accumulation of scientific knowledge, researchers try to replicate seemingly well-established findings. Mounting evidence, however, suggests that results from many studies are fragile and hard to replicate. The so-called “replication crisis” has important implications for evidence-based decision-making in the health and social sciences. At the same time, there is intense debate about what constitutes a successful replication and why certain types of replication rates are so low. A crucial set of questions for evidence-based decision-making involve questions about external validity and replicability. We need to understand the contexts and conditions under which interventions produce similar outcomes. To address these challenges, I introduce a novel framework that provides a clear definition of replication, and highlights the conditions under which results are likely to replicate (Wong & Steiner, 2018). I present replication as a prospective research design. This makes it possible to define key assumptions for the direct replication of results, and to show how different replication designs can be derived and used to evaluate treatment effect heterogeneity. I argue that replication designs are feasible, desirable, and relevant in real world settings that are important for evidence-based decision-making.

Vivian C. Wong is a research methodologist in the field of Education. Currently, Dr. Wong is an Assistant Professor in Research, Statistics, and Evaluation in the Curry School of Education at the University of Virginia. Her research focuses on evaluating interventions in early childhood and K-12 systems. As a methodologist, her expertise is in improving the design, implementation and analysis of randomized experiments, regression-discontinuity, interrupted time series, and matching designs in field settings. She is currently examining the design, implementation, and analysis of replication studies in field settings, as well as developing innovative methods for evaluating No Child Left Behind. Dr. Wong participated in the Institute for Education Sciences (IES) Predoctoral Training Program at Northwestern University, and received the Outstanding IES Predoctoral Fellow Award in 2010 for her dissertation work on “Addressing Theoretical and Practical Challenges in the Regression-Discontinuity Design.” She is a Principal Member of IES’s Statistics and Methodology review panel.


March 2019

“Developing an Education Policy Research Agenda outside Academia

Lauren Bauer
Fellow in Economic Studies
Brookings Institution

Monday, March 4th
Annenberg G02

The shift toward accountability policies for schools over the past two decades—first introduced in some states, and made national under the No Child Left Behind Act—has been central to efforts to assess and achieve progress in public education. The new federal education law, the Every Student Succeeds Act, requires state-led accountability systems to annually measure five indicators that assess progress toward the state’s long-term goals. The fifth indicator, of “school quality and student success” marked the first time that schools would be systematically held accountable for a metric other than student achievement or graduation rates. Dr. Bauer will discuss developing and implementing a research agenda that is relevant to this new policy parameter as well as to policymakers, regulatory processes, the media, and the public.

February 2019

Increasing Degree Attainment among Low-Income Community College Students: Evidence from a Randomized Controlled Trial

Kelly Hallberg
Scientific Director, Poverty Lab
University of Chicago

Wednesday, February 20th
Annenberg 303

Community colleges have the potential to be powerful vehicles for social mobility in the United States. They enroll nearly half of all post-secondary students in the U.S. and graduates who earn an associate’s degree increase the family’s income by more than 30 percent over a lifetime. However, the vast majority of students who enroll in community colleges do not receive a degree within three years. The barriers to degree attainment are multi-faceted and interconnected, spanning the financial, academic, personal, and professional domains of students’ lives. Dr. Hallberg will present the preliminary findings from a randomized controlled trial studying a comprehensive program designed to address each of these barriers. One Million Degrees (OMD) is a non-profit organization serving community college students in the Chicago metro area that supports students financially, academically, personally, and professionally through last-dollar scholarships, skill-building workshops, advising, and coaching.

“Spatial Reasoning in Minecraft

Marcelo Worsley
Assistant Professor of Learning Sciences and Computer Science
Northwestern University

Wednesday, February 27th
Annenberg 303

Minecraft is often touted as a game that affords important Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics learning opportunities. Proponents are quick to note the ways that Minecraft might promote spatial reasoning, a skillset that strongly correlates with STEM proficiency. Despite this claim, few papers have chronicled in-game practices that might evidence spatial reasoning, or how we might study its development. In this paper, we describe both quantitative and qualitative evidence for correlations between Minecraft game play and spatial reasoning. At a high level, we see that students with more prior experience with Minecraft score higher on a spatial reasoning pre-test. While we do not attribute differences in spatial reasoning to Minecraft, our qualitative analyses surface a number of in-game practices that align with spatial reasoning. We chronicle some of these behaviors to highlight a set of practices that may be beneficial for studying the development of spatial reasoning in game-based environments.