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CfEE Monthly Research Digest

The Monthly Digest is intended to give interested parties a direct view of what the rigorous economic research suggests works in education, both from a macro-policy perspective as well as from the point of view of teachers and head teachers who are looking for more effective classroom strategies.

Since January 2019 it has been published with support from Cambridge Assessment, and in partnership with the Times Educational Supplement (TES). 

The Digest is edited by Gabriel Heller-Sahlgren and Lee Crawfurd and covers research from both developed and low- to middle-income countries. 

Each section contains abstracts and links to recent working and published versions of research papers, as well as an editor's commentary. The commentaries offer insight and perspective on ground-breaking, policy-relevant research in the context of the existing evidence base. For the benefit in particular of those unfamiliar with the field, each issue discusses and explains a key theme in the literature. To conclude, we offer recommended further reading.

View Volume 1, Issue 4 (April 2019), the most recent issue of the new Monthly Research Digest, in flipbook version, or download a pdf, below.

Subscription to receive the Monthly and Annual Digests is free of charge, as part of CfEE’s public benefit offering. If you don't already, you can sign up here to get email notifications of the release of the digests, with links to download included.




Back issues of the Monthly Research Digest are also avalible and free to download.

CfEE also publish an Annual Research Digest. This volume of research commentaries include contributions from a number of influential researchers considering important pieces of research they think should be acknowledged and discussed in education policy circles. You can download the 2018 Annual Research Digest for free here.

Subscribe to get notifications, with links, to both digests by email.

Back issues of the Monthly Research Digest

20192018, 2017, 2016, 2015, 2014


March 2019 issue (Volume 1, Issue 3)

This issue includes research on the effects of vocational training programmes in Nepal; the impact of releasing teacher-quality data on household sorting as well as residential and school demographics in New York City; the effects of improved land rights on schooling in Ethiopia; and how information and programme design affect public preferences for charging tuition fees in higher education in Germany. The issue’s feature articles discuss research on the long-term effects of introducing universal childcare in Quebec, Canada, in 1997, and a randomised trial on the effects of two types of teacher professional development in South Africa – centralised, intensive training and in-class coaching. As with the feature articles, the middle section, which takes an overview of the school choice literature, concludes that a solid grasp of the existing evidence base and careful policy design is all important if the expected outcomes are to materialise.

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February 2019 issue (Volume 1, Issue 2)

This issue covers research analysing a wide range of topics, including such as the effects of eReaders in Nigerian schools; the short-run effect of a weakening of teachers’ unions on pupil achievement in Wisconsin; and the impact of affirmative action in India on educational outcomes. The issue’s feature articles cover research on parental investments in the educational process from different perspectives. In the middle section, the matter of parental investments is related to the broader issue of resource-based education policies. While few today would argue that resources ‘don’t matter’ for outcomes, there are many outstanding questions that require further research to answer.

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This first issue of the new Monthly Research Digest covers research analysing a wide range of topics in the economics of education, ranging from the effects of performance-based school grants in Indonesia to the effects of attending elite universities in America and Chile. In the feature articles, editors Gabriel Heller-Sahlgren and Lee Crawfurd consider two papers analysing the impact of two information interventions in different contexts. Information provision – targeting authorities, schools, pupils, and parents – is critical for helping authorities identify which schools are effective and ineffective, supporting parents seeking to discern differences in school effectiveness when choosing schools, and aiding pupils seeking to make optimal decisions regarding their educational careers. As the editor explains in his introduction to this theme in the literature, the empirical evidence supports the idea that information is important for a number of different reasons.

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November 2018 issue

The November 2018 Digest offers extended commentary on the results of a field experiment designed to reveal the effect of differently structured financial incentives on student test performance, and in particular whether such incentives, once removed, do actually crowd out intrinsic motivation on subsequent, similar tasks, as if often suggested. John List, Jeffrey Livingston, and Susanne Neckermann's design applies incentives to reward performance on low-stakes preparatory assessment designed to measure the same skills as a high-stakes test. Performance on the high-stakes test itself is not incentivised. The study finds substantial treatment effects on the incentivised tests, and some suggestive evidence that the incentives crowd-out intrinsic motivation to perform well on the non-incentivised test. The latter effect is only temporary, however, and fades after a year.

October 2018 issue

The October 2018 Digest offers extended commentary on the latest study on the impact of sleep on pupil learning. 'The Effect of School Start Times on Academic Performance from Childhood through Puberty', by Jennifer A. Heissel and Samuel Norris, analyses the effects of school start times in Florida on pupil achievement. It employs for the first time a novel strategy that takes advantage of how light affects sleeping patterns biologically. By exploiting boundary discontinuities between time-zones, they are able to obtain variation in school start time relative to sunrise. Adjusting for fixed pupil differences and school characteristics, they can thus trace the effects on children and adolescents, and by gender. The authors find the impact to be more pronounced at transition points to adolescence and find the beneficial effects of increasing sleep to be considerable.

May 2018 issue

The May 2018 Digest offers extended editorial commentary on a paper by Raj Chetty and Nathaniel Hendren, entitled 'The Impacts of Neighbourhoods on Intergenerational Mobility'. The paper is a component of a larger project examining the effects of tax expenditures on the budget deficit and economic activity, but this first publication focuses on childhood exposure (neighborhood) effects. Chetty and Hendren  used data from more than seven million US families to show that children who move to better-quality neighbourhoods – as measured by the outcomes of children of permanent residents in these neighbourhoods – are more likely to go to college when they are between 18 and 23. They also found that the children are more likely to be employed and have higher earnings later in life. Most interestingly, the impact appears to be linear: every year of exposure to a better neighbourhood increases the likelihood of attending college and earnings by about four per cent. It is important to note that we do not know why these neighbourhood effects emerge; the performance of children of permanent residents is likely to be affected by a wide-range of characteristics. Further research is necessary to establish the exact mechanisms explaining the results. Despite this, the findings still carry important implications for education policy.

April 2018 issue

The April 2018 Digest offers extended editorial commentary on a paper by Roland Fryer, entitled 'The ‘Pupil’ Factory: Specialisation and the Production of Human Capital in Schools'. In this paper, Fryer reports results from a randomised experiment conducted in 46 state primary schools in Houston, which aimed to study the effects on school productivity of allocating teachers to subjects based on their strengths. Treatment schools changed their schedules so that teachers specialised in their strongest subjects, as determined by the headteachers at the schools. The headteachers allocated teachers to subjects based on each their comparative advantage, using value-added metrics, observations, or recommendations. The findings show that schools allocated to the treatment group increased teacher specialisation considerably. Yet in sharp contrast to the positive effects of specialisation found in most parts of the economy, the effects on pupil performance in both high- and low-stakes tests were in fact negative: the results suggest that teacher specialisation decreases pupil performance by the equivalent of about 11-12 PISA points in mathematics and reading. Specialisation also had negative effects - especially pronounced among disadvantaged pupils - in science and social studies and appeared to increase the number of absences and suspensions

March 2018 issue.

The March 2018 Digest offers extended editorial commentary on a paper Stephen Billings and colleagues, entitled 'Gentrification and Failing Schools: The Unintended Consequences of School Choice under NCLB'. The paper paper shows how well meaning yet poorly designed choice reforms may end up not directly benefiting the pupils they target, highlighting the importance of clear thinking around the incentives created by policymakers when implementing such reforms. At the same time, the paper also verifies the idea that even poorly-designed choice programmes may reduce residential income stratification and improve neighbourhood quality, in line with prior theoretical modelling. 

February 2018 issue.

The first Digest of 2018 offers extended editorial commentary on on a recent NBER Working Paper by Uri Gneezy and colleagues, entitled 'Measuring Success in Education: The Role of Effort on the Test Itself'. The paper shows striking evidence that international tests such as PISA are unlikely to merely pick up differences in ability and learning across countries. Instead, they probably also reflect cultural differences in intrinsic motivation. While such motivation is important, it is not necessarily what international assessments are supposed to measure. Gabriel Heller Sahlgren reviews the study, suggesting that we need more research to better understand how different countries are affected by the low-stakes nature of the tests, for example by carring out experiments as part of the international tests themselves, allowing half of the sample in each country to receive surprise incentives. This would enable us to analyse to what extent cross-national differences in intrinsic motivation, rather than cognitive skills, affect countries’ position in the league tables – and ultimately provide better information to policymakers seeking to improve pupil performance.  


November 2017 issue.

This issue's editorial offers extended commentary on a new paper, published in the Economics of Education Review (December 2017) by Lauren L. Schmitz and Dalton Conley, entitled 'The Effect of Vietnam-era Conscription and Genetic Potential for Educational Attainment on Schooling Outcomes'. The study considers research findings of relevance to the ongoing debate about the extent to which educational attainment is affected by genes and environmental factors. While a large number of studies do find that educational attainment is significantly heritable, these are routinely criticised for not taking into account potential interactions between heritable and environmental factors. Few studies have addressed causal interaction effects between genes and environmental factors because they require both information on people’s genetic composition and random variation in the environmental factor under investigation. Schmitz and Conley's study provides an interesting exception. Gabriel Heller Sahlgren analyses the findings in detail.
This issue's editorial offers extended commentary on a recent NBER Working Paper by Roland G. Fryer and Meghan Howard Noveck, entitled ‘High-Dosage Tutoring and Reading Achievement: Evidence from New York City’. The study considers a project geared to discover whether disadvantaged pupils, particularly from ethnic minorities, benefit from high dosage tutoring in reading, as research indicates they do in mathematics. Researchers exploited the random selection of a subset of year 6-8 pupils from treatment schools in New York City exposed  to a programme that gave them 45-60 minutes daily after-school tutoring in reading. The experiment had no statistically significant effects on pupil performance. Among a range of background factors considered, only ethnicity appeared to have bearing, and only for Afro-Amercian students. Interestingly, researchers find that the effect can be explained by the quality and background, of the tutors deployed - suggesting that matching is important. Gabriel Heller Sahlgren analyses the findings in detail.
This issue's editorial offers extended commentary on a paper by Tahir Andrabi, Jishnu Das, and Asim Ijaz Khwaja, published in the June issue of the American Economic Review under the title ‘Report Cards: The Impact of Providing School and Child Test Scores on Educational Markets’. The study considers the impact of information provision at the market level by scrutinising the results of an experiment that increased information provision randomly in 56 out of 112 villages in Pakistan via report cards with school- and pupil-level test scores covering all schools in each village. The findings support the idea that information interventions, which are generally inexpensive compared to other interventions, can improve the functioning of education markets in a very cost-effective way - resulting in improved test scores and more competitive pricing. Gabriel Heller Sahlgren analyses the outcomes.
This issue's editorial offers extended commentary on an NBER working paper published this month, 'Management and Student Achievement: Evidence from a Randomized Field Experiment', by Roland G. Fryer, Jr. The study considers the role of leadership and management in school improvement. Previous research has suggested that management practices play an important role in human capital formation, but the author provides the first randomised experiment on the impact of headteacher management training on pupil outcomes. The experiment encompassed 58 schools in Houston, Texas and randomly assigned 29 of these to receive intensive headteacher management training. The results display that providing management training to headteachers and implementing the programme in schools have quite a substantial payoff in terms of pupil achievement in the first year, but tail off in the second year and beyond. Gabriel Heller Sahlgren considers possible reasons for the drop off and what we may conclude from this.
This issue's editorial offers extended commentary on a paper published in the June 2017 issue of the Economics of Education Review, 'Putting dollars before scholars? Evidence from for-profit charter schools in Florida', by John D. Singleton. Using data from detailed annual independent financial audits and accountability reports since 2005, the author analyses the impact of for-profit, state-funded charter schools in Florida, whose enrolment shares have increased by about 80 per cent in this period. Looking at differences in spending patterns, pupil composition, and pupil performance among schools with different ownership structures, he finds a number of intriguing differences. Gabriel Heller Sahlgren analyses the findings and finds them remarkably consistent with what we know from other research - suggesting that for-profit schools at least perform on par with non-profit schools, and often provide more choice for disadvantaged parents, while at the same time injecting more private funding into the state system.
This issue's editorial offers extended commentary on a paper soon to be published in the Economic Journal, 'Paid Parental Leave and Children’s Schooling Outcomes', by Natalia Danzer and Victor Lavy. The authors analyse data enabling them to capture the impact of increasing the time mothers spend with children on the latter’s performance in PISA tests at age 15. They do so by exploiting a reform in Austria that increased the maximum duration of paid paternal leave by one year for all mothers who gave birth from 1 July 1990 onward. The reform was announced shortly before coming into effect, thus giving no time for parents to change their fertility plans to take advantage of the new policy. This means that it can be utilised as a natural experiment to study the effects of paid parental leave on those children who were born just after the cut-off date, and as a result spent more time with their mothers than those who were born just before it. The results showed heterogeneous effects depending on children’s background, advantaging children from relatively well-off families, while having no overall impact for attainment. Gabriel Heller Sahlgren analyses these findings.
This issue's editorial offers extended commentary on a paper recently published in the Economic Journal (October 2016), ‘Early, Late or Never? When Does Parental Education Impact Child Outcomes?’, by Matt Dickson, Paul Gregg, and Harriet Robinson. Using data from from Avon, England, the authors study the causal impact of higher parental education levels on pupil outcomes. The authors find that increasing the parental educational level by one year on average raises the performance of children at the age of 4. The impact continues to be visible up to and including KS4 examinations with an effect size that corresponds to about 10 PISA points per parent (about a fourth of an academic year’s worth of learning). Gabriel Heller Sahlgren analyses the findings.


November 2016 issue.

This issue's editorial offers extended commentary on a paper recently published in the Journal of Policy Analysis and Management (Summer 2016), ‘Charter High Schools’ Effects on Long-Term Attainment and Earnings’, by Tim R. Sass, Ron W. Zimmer, Brian P. Gill, and T. Kevin Booker. Using data from Florida, the authors confirm previous research showing that charter high school attendance increases the likelihood of graduation and subsequent college enrollment. They then go on to break new ground in estimating charter schools’ effects on college persistence and earnings in adulthood. Gabriel Heller Sahlgren analyses the findings.

October 2016 issue.

This issue's editorial offers extended commentary on a recently issued NBER Working Paper (No. 22502), ‘Charter Schools and Labour Market Outcomes’ by Will S. Dobbie and Roland G. Fryer, Jr. The paper looks at the impact of charter schools on early-life labour market outcomes using administrative data from Texas. The authors find that, at the mean, charter schools have no impact on test scores and a negative impact on earnings. 'No Excuses' charter schools do increase test scores and four-year college enrollment, but have a small and statistically insignificant impact on earnings, while other types of charter schools decrease test scores, four-year college enrollment, and earnings. Gabriel Heller Sahlgren analyses the findings.
This issue's editorial offers extended commentary on a recently issued NBER Working Paper (No. 22165), ‘The Causes and Consequences of Test Score Manipulation: Evidence from the New York Regents Examinations’ by Thomas S. Dee, Will Dobbie, Brian A. Jacob, and Jonah Rockoff. The paper looks at the causes and consequences of allowing teachers to mark the Regents Examinations in New York State – high-stakes tests measuring performance in accordance with the state’s secondary-school curricula. The authors examine what happened after internal marking was discontinued between 2010 and 2012, finding clear evidence that teachers inflated scores in the period when it was possible to do so. The authors analyse the causal impact of manipulation on future outcomes, discerning negative effects on pupil motivation and thereby educational equity. Gabriel Heller Sahlgren analyses the findings.
This issue's editorial offers extended commentary on a recently issued NBER Working Paper (No. 22226), ‘What Do Test Scores Miss? The Importance of Teacher Effects on Non-Test Score Outcomes’ by C. Kirabo Jackson. The paper looks at the importance of teachers for improving non-cognitive outcomes – an issue on which to date has received surprisingly little research attention. Exploiting administrative data from secondary-school pupils in North Carolina, Kirabo Jackson uses a number of behavioural outcomes as proxies for pupils’ non-cognitive skills – suspensions, absences, course marks in ninth grade, and whether they enrolled in tenth grade on time. The variation in these measures that is unrelated to test scores gives him a teacher-effectiveness index that solely measures non-cognitive outcomes. Comparison with a regular value-added metric based on test scores shows only a weak correlation, suggesting that they do indeed capture different skills. He finds that teacher effectiveness in respect of non-cognitive skills as measured by the first metric is positive for the likelihood of graduation,  sitting the SAT university admissions test, for their high-school GPA, and their self-proclaimed plans to attend four-year colleges. Gabriel Heller Sahlgren analyses the findings.
This issue's editorial offers extended commentary on a forthcoming paper for the Quarterly Journal of Economics, ‘Wealth, Health, and Child Development: Evidence from Administrative Data on Swedish Lottery Players’ by David Cesarini, Erik Lindqvist, Robert Östling, and Björn Wallace. The paper analyses a range of outcomes that followed winning the lottery in Sweden, including health among both adults and children, and education outcomes. The authors find that the widely cited correlation between family income and pupil outcomes does not hold under these circumstances, and indeed is marginally negative. In other words, the correlations generally observed must be due to ‘unseen’ variables that generate both higher family income and pupil outcomes. This is a startling finding for advocates of income redistribution and other social policy interventions aimed at improving pupil outcomes. Gabriel Heller Sahlgren analyses the findings.
This issue's editorial offers extended commentary on a report published in February by the Education Research Alliance for New Orleans, 'The Effects of the New Orleans Post-Katrina School Reforms on Student Academic Outcomes' by Douglas N. Harris and Matthew F. Larsen of Tulane University. The paper reports on the impact of probably the most radical, literally ground up, redesign of a market- and government-accountability system ever undertaken in America. Using several difference-in-difference strategies – and a matched comparison group that were subjected to Katrina but not the school reforms (allowing them to take into account disruption due to the hurricane) – the authors find strong positive effects of the post-2005 reforms. Gabriel Heller Sahlgren analyses their findings.
This issue's editorial offers extended commentary on a recently published NBER Working Paper (No. 21839), ‘School Vouchers and Student Achievement: First-Year Evidence from the Louisiana Scholarship Program’ by Atik Abdulkadiroglu, Parag A. Pathak, and Christopher R. Walters. The paper reports on a study of a lotterised voucher programme geared towards low income households allowing participants to use vouchers toward tuition fees in private schools. Such studies have generally found no or small positive effects on test scores, but larger positive effects on graduation rates and college enrolment. This is the first such research to have found strongly negative effects.
This issue's editorial offers extended commentary on research by Melissa S. Kearney and Phillip B. Levine analysing the impact of Sesame Street on early childhood education outcomes. Little research exists on indirect interventions outside the formal education system, so these are important findings for assessment of the potential of today’s MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses). The authors were able to draw causal inference by exploiting limitations in TV technology at the time of the show’s introduction relative to the location of the nearest television towers transmitting at the required frequency for access to the show, which were erected years before. They find that Sesame Street had positive effects on ‘grade-for-age’ status (an indicator of whether children progress at a normal pace through school without grade retention), as well as in relation to a range of other long-term indicators.
This issue's editorial returns to the vexed question of the proper role of teachers in the classroom, following the publication of new research by Professor Victor Lavy. Lavy undertakes quasi-experimental analysis of longitudinal pupil-level data to assess the impact of different teacher practices on outcomes in mathematics, science, Hebrew, and English. The findings provide important nuances regarding the value of different teaching practices. While overall, traditional teaching with a focus on instilment of knowledge and enhancement of comprehension, via memorisation and homework etc., has the strongest positive effect of four different techniques in terms of absolute effect size, the effect of teachers’ instilment of analytical and critical skills (a modern pedagogical feature) is also positive for pupil attainment.
This issue offers extended commentary on a methodologically ground-breaking study of a large-scale randomised voucher experiment in the Indian state of Andhra Pradeshby - 'The Aggregate Effect of School Choice: Evidence from a Two-stage Experiment in India'. Economists Karthik Muralidharan and Venkatesh Sundararaman designed an experiment whereby a voucher was provided to finance pupils to attend low-cost private primary schools. Applicants were encouraged to apply, and receipt of a voucher was determined by lotteries. But going further than previous voucher experiments, it also randomised the villages in which the programme would be conducted – allowing the authors to analyse potential spill-over effects of the voucher programme on pupils in the state sector. Overall, Muralidharan and Sundararaman find a positive, albeit relatively small, effect of private school attendance, but one that is achieved on a considerable tighter budget: state schools spending on average more than three times as much per pupil as private schools in this region.
This issue offers extended commentary on a new NBER Working Paper (No. 20983), ‘Teachers’ pay for performance in the long-run: effects on students’ educational and labor market outcomes in adulthood’, by Victor Lavy. Lavy investigates a performance pay experiment he designed in Israel, and its effects on long-term outcomes, including university attainment and earnings. The main feature of the programme was an individual-level bonus for teachers based on pupil achievement in matriculation examinations. His research finds large positive effects for likelihood of university attendance and earnings, and a reduction in the share of pupils receiving unemployment and disability benefits.
This issue offers extended commentary on a new NBER Working Paper (No. 20843), ‘Long Run Effects of Free School Choice: College Attainment, Employment, Earnings, and Social Outcomes at Adulthood’, by Victor Lavy. Lavy analyses a school choice experiment at the secondary level in Tel-Aviv, Israel, which started in 1994. His research finds that the Israeli government decision to end its policy of compulsory integration via bussing and introduce school choice, in addition to impacting positively on test scores, has had important positive effects on a range of longer-term outcomes also.
This issue offers extended commentary on a new NBER Working Paper (No. 20645), 'The Evolution of Charter School Quality' by economists Patrick L. Baude, Marcus Casey, Eric A. Hanushek, and Steven G. Rivkin addressed to consideration of maturation effects in Texas, a state with one of the highest proportions of charter schools across the US. The find evidence of significant quality improvement relative to public schools between 2001 and 2011. The authors attribute this to exits from the sector, improvement of exisiting charter schools, and positive selection of charter management organisations that open additional schools.
This issue offers extended commentary on a new NBER Working Paper (No. 20511), 'The Impact of No Child Left Behind's Accountability Sanctions on School Performance: Regression Discontinuity Evidence from North Carolina', by economists Thomas Ahn and Jacob Vigdor. The authors analyse the impact of different threats and sanctions on pupil performance. Comparisons of schools that barely meet or miss criteria for adequate yearly progress (AYP) reveal that some sanctions built into the No Child Left Behind accountability regime exert positive impacts on students. Estimates indicate that the strongest positive effects associate with the ultimate sanction: leadership and management changes associated with school restructuring.
This issue offers extended commentary on a paper published in the journal Labour Economics (Volume 30, October 2014), by economist Jan Bietenback considering the relationship between different teaching practices and cognitive skills. The research analyses data from the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) and finds that traditional and modern teaching practices promote different cognitive skills in students.
This issue offers extended commentary on NBER Working Paper No. 20118, ‘The Effects of School Finance Reforms on the Distribution of Spending, Academic Achievement, and Adult Outcomes’ by C. Kirabo Jackson, Rucker Johnson, and Claudia Persico. The paper analyses the effects of the US reforms of the 1970s and 80s on spending and educational and economic outcomes. In respect of the latter, the authors find effects of sufficient magnitude to eliminate between two-thirds and all of the gaps in these adult outcomes between those raised in poor families and those raised in non-poor families.