The SEED schools, which combine a “No Excuses” charter model with a five-day-a-week boarding program, are America’s only urban public boarding schools for the poor. We provide the first causal estimate of the impact of attending SEED schools on academic achievement, with the goal of understanding whether changing both a student’s social and educational en- vironment through boarding is an effective strategy to increase achievement among the poor. Using admission lotteries, we show that attending a SEED school increases achievement by 0.211 standard deviations in reading and 0.229 standard deviations in math, per year of attendance. We argue that the large impacts on reading are consistent with dialectical theories of language development.
Domestic attempts to use financial incentives for teachers to increase student achievement have been ineffective. In this paper, we demonstrate that exploiting the power of loss aversion—teachers are paid in advance and asked to give back the money if their students do not improve sufficiently—increases math test scores between 0.201 (0.076) and 0.398 (0.129) standard deviations. This is equivalent to increasing teacher quality by more than one standard deviation. A second treatment arm, identical to the loss aversion treatment but implemented in the standard fashion, yields smaller and statistically insignificant results. This suggests it is loss aversion, rather than other features of the design or population sampled, that leads to the stark differences between our findings and past research.
Harlem Children’s Zone (HCZ), an ambitious social experiment, combines community programs with charter schools. We provide the first empirical test of the causal impact of HCZ charters on educational outcomes. Both lottery and instrumental variable identification strategies suggest that the effects of attending an HCZ middle school are enough to close the black-white achievement gap in mathematics. The effects in elementary school are large enough to close the racial achievement gap in both mathematics and ELA. We conclude with evidence that suggests high-quality schools are enough to significantly increase academic achievement among the poor. Community programs appear neither necessary nor sufficient.