Improving School Accountability: Volume 14

Cover of Improving School Accountability

Table of contents

(12 chapters)

The existing state of K-12 public education in the United States is perceived as unacceptable by a large number and a wide variety of critics. How to improve upon this state is the subject of much disagreement. The public discussion is heated, and even the academic debate is often sharp. One common thread of argument stresses the need to increase accountability as a strategy for improving the quality of public schools. There are two broad classes of mechanisms for increasing accountability. If the current outcomes are too low, then setting acceptable performance standards is one approach to generating quality improvements. The task becomes one of defining appropriate accountability standards and then establishing a system of incentives to implement those standards. Alternatively, the low current performance may reflect weak productivity incentives traceable to the limited competition, which many school operators face. The suggested remedy is a dose of increased choice either increased public sector offerings, such as charter schools, or increased private sector choice via voucher-type programs.

We explore the extent to which schools manipulate the composition of students in the test-taking pool in order to maximize ratings under Texas’ accountability system in the 1990s. We first derive predictions from a static model of administrators’ incentives given the structure of the ratings criteria, and then test these predictions by comparing differential changes in exemption rates across student subgroups within campuses and across campuses and regimes. Our analyses uncover evidence of a moderate degree of strategic behavior, so that there is some tension between designing systems that account for heterogeneity in student populations and that are manipulation-free.

This paper utilizes highly detailed student-level data to examine whether the initiation of a high-stakes test for accountability purposes affected Florida public schools’ decisions regarding whether to assign students to special education. Using student-level fixed effects models, we find that schools systematically placed students from low socio-economic status backgrounds and historically low-performing students into special education categories that were at the time exempt from the accountability system. High-poverty schools are significantly more likely to reclassify low-achieving students than are more affluent schools. These results provide important implications for the design of school accountability systems.

We examine variation in high school and college outcomes across New York City public high schools. Using data on 80,000 students who entered high school in 1998 and following them into the City University of New York, we investigate whether schools that produce successful high school students also produce successful college students. We also explore differences in performance across sex, race, and immigration, and we briefly explore selection issues. Specifically, we estimate student-level regressions with school fixed effects, controlling for student characteristics, to identify better and worse performing schools based on state mandated exams, graduation, and college performance.

Do high ratings based upon traditional performance measures go hand in hand with efficiency? This paper addresses this question using stochastic production frontier methods. We utilize a six-year panel of test score, school input, and school student characteristics data for a sample of 3,000 campuses in Texas. We generate estimates of school-specific efficiency based upon the estimates of the one-sided school specific error term in a stochastic production frontier model. School rankings on the basis of estimated efficiency are not well correlated with school rankings on the basis of traditional measures of school performance.

This paper examines the effect of charter schools on student achievement in Michigan using a matched student dataset. Proponents of charter schools argue that by applying market pressure to traditional public schools, having the freedom and incentives to apply innovative curricular and instructional ideas, and offering students a choice in the schools they attend, charter schools can raise student achievement. Studies of the effect of charter schools on student achievement have been mixed, however. Methodologies vary widely depending upon the availability of data. Some studies track the same students as they transfer between charter schools and traditional schools; others rely on cross-sectional student or building-level data. We construct a dataset that matches the scores of the same student taking tests in two consecutive years. Estimating a value-added education production function, we find that charter schools are at a disadvantage to traditional public schools by an average of 0.2 standard deviations. These findings depend upon proper matching of students across school types, which in this case is accomplished by using prior test scores as a control variable and as a way to segment the sample. We also find that charter schools run by for-profit companies have an advantage over those run by not-for-profits and that charter schools improve the longer they are in operation.

Federal “No Child Left Behind” legislation, which enables students of low-performing schools to exercise public school choice, exemplifies a widespread belief that competing for students will spur public schools to higher achievement. We investigate how the introduction of school choice in North Carolina, via a dramatic increase in the number of charter schools, affects student performance on statewide end-of-year testing at traditional public schools. We find test score gains from competition that are robust to a variety of specifications. Charter school competition causes an approximately one percent increase in the score, which constitutes about one quarter of the average yearly growth.

Advocates of market-based reforms in the public sector argue that competition between providers drives up performance. But in the context of schooling, the concern is that any improvements in efficiency may come at the cost of increased stratification of schools along lines of pupil ability and attainments. In this chapter, we discuss our empirical work on competition and parental choice in English primary schools and present a methodology for identifying competition effects that exploits discontinuities in market access close to education district boundaries.

The pattern of racial segregation in U.S. elementary and secondary schools has changed significantly over the last 25 years. This chapter examines the relationship between the racial composition of schools and the choices white parents make concerning the schools their children attend. Restricted access files at the Bureau of the Census allow us to identify each household's Census block of residence and, in turn, suburban public school districts and urban public school attendance areas. We find that the racial composition of schools and neighborhoods are very important in the school and location decisions of white families.

One of the biggest public school reform movements in the past decade has been the passage of charter school laws. Forty states and Washington, DC have approved legislation that allows charter schools to operate within their jurisdictional boundaries. The academic research thus far has focused on where charter schools have been located and the achievement consequences of the schools. This paper addresses a direct effect of charter schools by examining their enrollment consequences. We find that in Michigan approximately 17 percent of the students who enroll in charter schools were previously enrolled in private schools and approximately 83 percent move from the traditional public schools.

Charter schools have the potential to enhance competition in the public education sector. As such, they could have a particularly significant impact in the labor market for teachers. This study uses data on more than 312,000 teachers from 483 urban Texas school districts to explore the impact of charter school competition on the compensation of teachers at traditional public schools. The analysis suggests that once charter enrollments reach critical mass, increasing competition from charter schools increases salaries for all but the most experienced teachers.

Cover of Improving School Accountability
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Book series
Advances in Applied Microeconomics
Series copyright holder
Emerald Publishing Limited
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