Research Findings

Instructional Coaching Personnel and Program Scalability (2022)

David Blazar, Doug McNamara, & Genine Blue

While teacher coaching is an attractive alternative to one-size-fits-all professional development, the need for a large number of highly skilled coaches raises potential challenges for scalability and sustainability. Collaborating with a national teacher training organization, our study uses administrative records to estimate the degree of heterogeneity in coach effectiveness at improving teachers’ instructional practice, and specific characteristics of coaches that explain these differences. We find substantial variability in effectiveness across individual coaches. The magnitude of the coach-level variation (0.2 to 0.35 standard deviations) is close to the full effect of coaching programs, as identified in other research. We also find that coach-teacher race/ethnicity-matching predicts changes in teacher practice, suggesting that the relational component of coaching is key to success.

Advancing Equity: Expanding and Diversifying the Teacher Workforce (2022) 

Amanda Bowsher, Jennifer King Rice, Kayla Bill, Doug McNamara, Betty Malen, & Jason Saltmarsh

Policymakers have responded to teacher shortages with various initiatives but have done so without adequate evidence about factors that influence prospective teachers’ career decisions. This study explores undergraduates’ interest in and perceptions of a career in teaching and investigates how these factors vary by race/ethnicity. While a large proportion of our survey respondents indicated an interest in teaching, we found misalignment between the factors individuals prioritize in a future career and how they perceive a teaching career. Differences exist across racial/ethnic groups. The study has implications for policies and investments aimed at expanding and diversifying the teacher workforce.

Professional Staff Diversity and Student Outcomes: Extending our Understanding of Race/Ethnicity-Matching Effects in Education (2021)

David Blazar & Francisco Lagos

Studies consistently show benefits of teacher-student race/ethnicity matching, with some suggestion that these effects are driven by role modeling. We explore this hypothesis by examining effects on the educational outcomes of Black and Hispanic students for exposure to same-race/ethnicity professional staff (e.g., administrators, counselors), with whom students interact less frequently and directly than with their teachers. Exploiting within-student and within-school variation in statewide data from Maryland, we find that increased shares of same-race/ethnicity professionals results in increased test scores, and decreased suspensions and absences for Black and Hispanic students. We also find that exposure to non-White school staff leads to improved outcomes for these students, whether or not they are from the same racial/ethnic group.

Teachers of Color, Culturally Responsive Teaching, and Student Outcomes: Experimental Evidence from the Random Assignment of Teachers to Classes (2021)

David Blazar

There is broad consensus across academic disciplines that access to same-race/ethnicity teachers is a critical resource for supporting the educational experiences and outcomes of Black, Hispanic, and other students of color. While theoretical and qualitative lines of inquiry further describe a set of teacher mindsets and practices aligned to “culturally responsive teaching” as likely mechanisms for these effects, to date there is no causal evidence on this topic. In experimental data where upper-elementary teachers were randomly assigned to classes, I find large effects upwards of 0.45 standard deviations of teachers of color on the short- and longer-term social-emotional, academic, and behavioral outcomes of their students. These average effects are explained in part by teachers’ growth mindset beliefs that student intelligence is malleable rather than fixed, interpersonal relationships with students and families, time spent planning for and differentiating instruction for individual students’ needs, and the extent to which teachers lead well-organized classrooms in which student (mis)behavior is addressed productively without creating a negative classroom climate.

Spare the Rod: Punishment and the Moral Community of Schools (2021)

Campbell Scribner & Bryan Warnick

Spare the Rod traces the history of discipline in schools and its ever increasing integration with prison and policing, ultimately arguing for an approach to discipline that aligns with the moral community that schools could and should be. Historian Campbell F. Scribner and philosopher Bryan R. Warnick investigate the history and philosophy of America’s punishment and discipline practices in schools. To delve into this controversial subject, they first ask questions of meaning. How have concepts of discipline and punishment in schools changed over time? What purposes are they supposed to serve? And what can they tell us about our assumptions about education? They then explore the justifications. Are public school educators ever justified in punishing or disciplining students? Are discipline and punishment necessary for students’ moral education, or do they fundamentally have no place in education at all? If some form of punishment is justified in schools, what ethical guidelines should be followed? The authors argue that as schools have grown increasingly bureaucratic over the last century, formalizing disciplinary systems and shifting from physical punishments to forms of spatial or structural punishment such as in-school suspension, school discipline has not only come to resemble the operation of prisons or policing, but has grown increasingly integrated with those institutions. These changes and structures are responsible for the school-to-prison pipeline. They show that these shifts disregard the unique status of schools as spaces of moral growth and community oversight, and are incompatible with the developmental environment of education. What we need, they argue, is an approach to discipline and punishment that fits with the sort of moral community that schools could and should be.

From Referrals to Suspensions: New Evidence on Racial Disparities in Exclusionary Discipline (2021)

Jing Liu, Michael S. Hayes, & Seth Gershenson

We use novel data on disciplinary referrals, including those that do not lead to suspensions, to better understand the origins of racial disparities in exclusionary discipline. We find significant differences between Black and white students in both referral rates and the rate at which referrals convert to suspensions. An infraction fixed-effects research design that compares the disciplinary outcomes of white and non-white students who were involved in the same multi-student incident identifies systematic racial biases in sentencing decisions. On both the intensive and extensive margins, Black and Hispanic students receive harsher sentences than their white co-conspirators. This result is driven by high school infractions and mainly applies to “more severe” infractions that involve fights or drugs. Reducing racial disparities in exclusionary discipline will require addressing underlying gaps in disciplinary referrals and the systematic biases that appear in the adjudication process.

Curriculum Reform in the Common Core era: Evaluating Elementary Math Textbooks Across Six US States (2020)

David Blazar, Blake Heller, Thomas J. Kane, Morgan Polikoff, Douglas O. Staiger, Scott Carrell, Dan Goldhaber, Douglas N. Harris, Rachel Hitch, Kristian L. Holden, & Michal Kurlaender

Can a school or district improve student achievement simply by switching to a higher-quality textbook or curriculum? We conducted the first multi-textbook, multi-state effort to estimate textbook efficacy following widespread adoption of the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) and associated changes in the textbook market. Pooling textbook adoption and student test score data across six geographically and demographically diverse U.S. states, we found little evidence of differences in average achievement gains for schools using different math textbooks. We found some evidence of greater variation in achievement gains among schools using pre-CCSS editions, which may have been more varied in their content than post-CCSS editions because they were written for a broader set of standards. We also found greater variation among schools that had more exposure to a given text. However, these differences were small. Despite considerable interest and attention to textbooks as a low-cost, “silver bullet” intervention for improving student outcomes, we conclude that the adoption of a new textbook or set of curriculum materials, on its own, is unlikely to achieve this goal.

Teaching to Support Students with Diverse Academic Needs (2020)

David Blazar & Casey Archer

Policy and practice communities increasingly are emphasizing conceptual, cognitively demanding, and “ambitious” instruction. Within this context, we examine whether such practices serve the needs of students with specialized academic needs. Across upper-elementary classrooms in four districts, we find that exposure to “ambitious” mathematics practices is more strongly associated with test score gains of English language learners (ELs) compared to those of their peers in general education classrooms; furthermore, this teaching practice is associated with the math self-efficacy of students with individualized education programs (IEP), and the self-reported behavior of general education students. We also find links between teachers’ emotional support and students’ self-efficacy and engagement, with the strongest relationships for students identified both as an EL and with an IEP.