High School Start Times and Student Achievement: Looking Beyond Test Scores

(with Matthew Lenard and Melinda Morrill)

Economics of Education Review, Volume 76, June 2020

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that U.S. secondary schools begin after 8:30 AM to better align with the circadian rhythms of adolescents. Yet due to economic and logistic considerations, the vast majority of high schools begin the school day considerably earlier. We leverage a quasi-natural experiment in which five comprehensive high schools in one of the nation's largest school systems moved start times forty minutes earlier to better coordinate with earlier-start high schools. Here, disruption effects should exacerbate any harmful consequences. We report on the effect of earlier start times on a broad range of outcomes, including mandatory ACT test scores, absenteeism, on-time progress in high school, and college-going. While we fail to find evidence of harmful effects on test scores, we do see a rise in absenteeism and tardiness rates, as well as higher rates of dropping out of high school. These results suggest that the harmful effects of early start times may not be well captured by considering test scores alone.


The Role of Social Security in Retirement Timing: Evidence from a National Sample of Teachers

(with Melinda Morrill)

Journal of Pension Economics and Finance,  October 2019, 18(Special Issue 4) , 549-564.

This study documents an important role for Social Security income in workers’ retirement timing. About 40% of public school teachers are not covered by Social Security. This provides an opportunity to analyze the causal impact of Social Security on retirement timing by comparing covered and non-covered teachers. Using individual-level data from the American Community Survey, we find robust evidence of higher rates of retirement among covered teachers at Social Security eligibility ages. This pattern is confirmed using an alternative regression model of participation in the teacher labor force. These estimates suggest that, should the federal government mandate full inclusion in Social Security for all public sector workers, the retirement timing patterns of newly covered teachers and other public sector workers would likely change.




The Labor Market Consequences of Principal Performance Pay

Link to Working Paper

I study whether test-based performance pay for public-school principals affects principals' labor market transitions. I leverage a policy change in North Carolina, which implemented a test-based performance pay system for school principals in 2017. I provide evidence that performance pay's financial incentives induce positive sorting of principals throughout the traditional public school labor force. Principals with characteristics that are not rewarded by performance pay are more likely to leave their positions. The principals who left are more experienced but less effective at improving test-score growth. Principals rewarded by performance pay are more likely to remain a principal but transfer to a different school. These transfers are driven by principals moving from small schools and to larger, recurring low-performing, and Title I schools. My results demonstrate that principal performance pay can push ineffective principals out of their positions and attract effective and experienced principals to traditionally harder-to-staff schools.


Which Students Are Most Impacted by Extended School Closures?
(with Melinda MorrillRevised and Resubmitted
Link to Working Paper

In September 2018, Hurricane Florence caused widespread and extended school closures throughout North Carolina.  We leverage this geographic variation to assess whether the impacts on learning depends on students' baseline characteristics.  There is robust evidence of small declines on reading and mathematics end-of-grade tests.  Importantly, those performing at the lowest levels in the prior year did not experience disproportionate losses. The impacts are slightly larger for middle versus elementary school students. Although Black and economically disadvantaged students experience the largest test score losses, our estimates suggest that all students felt the effects irrespective of baseline human capital or demographic group.




Diplomas Left Behind: The Impact of No Child Left Behind on High School Graduation

Strategic Responses to Early Literacy Laws: Evidence from Michigan’s Read by Grade
with Katharine O. Strunk, Amy Cummings, and Andrew Utter

Effects of Early Literacy Policies on Student Achievement
with Amy Cummings


Following the Letter of the Law: Retention Outcomes Under Michigan’s Read by Grade Three Law
with Andrew Utter and Katharine O. Strunk