I am a Ph.D. student in Education Policy and Program Evaluation at Harvard University. My primary research interests involve identifying and evaluating interventions that improve student achievement and teacher quality—all with an eye toward eliminating disparities. I am particularly interested in interventions that optimize how students and teachers are assigned to schools and classrooms. I also hope to learn from and explore international education contexts in order to identify programs and policies that can inform the U.S. education system. As both a researcher and a practitioner who has benefited from evaluation resources, I hope to develop programs and toolkits that enhance the work of educators in the field.

Most recently, I led data strategy efforts at the Wake County Public School System, having joined as a Strategic Data Project Fellow in 2012. While there, I helped codify an enhanced data- and evidence-use policy, led a diverse series of randomized controlled trials, and developed the district’s research-practice partnership framework. Prior to that, I was a policy analyst at the Southern Regional Education Board, co-founded the education technology company BetterLesson, and taught middle school social studies in the Atlanta Public Schools as a Teach for America corps member. I studied economics and Russian at Wesleyan University and political science at Georgia State University.

Featured Publications

D. Carlson, E. Bell, M. Lenard, J. Cowen, and A. McEachin. 2019. “Socioeconomic-based School Assignment Policy and Racial Segregation Levels: Evidence from the Wake County Public School System.” American Educational Research Journal. Publisher's VersionAbstract
In the wake of legal challenges facing race-based integration, districts have turned tosocioeconomic integration in an attempt to achieve greater racial balance. Empirically, the extentto which these initiatives generate such balance is an open question. In this paper, we leveragethe school assignment system that the Wake County Public School System (WCPSS) employedto provide evidence on this issue. Although our results show that WCPSS’ socioeconomic-basedassignment policy had negligible effects on average levels of segregation across the district, itsubstantially reduced segregation for students who would have attended highly segregatedschools under a residence-based assignment policy. The policy also exposed these students topeers with different racial/ethnic backgrounds, higher achievement levels, and more advantagedneighborhood contexts.
S.W. Hemelt and M.A. Lenard. 2019. “Math Acceleration in Elementary School: Access and Effects on Student Outcomes.” Economics of Education Review. Publisher's VersionAbstract
This paper examines curricular acceleration in mathematics during elementary school using administrative data from a large, diverse school district that recently implemented a targeted, test-based acceleration policy. We first characterize access to advanced math and then estimate effects of acceleration in math on measures of short-run academic achievement as well as non- test-score measures of grit, engagement with schoolwork, future plans, and continued participation in the accelerated track. Experiences and effects of math acceleration differ markedly for girls and boys. Girls are less likely to be nominated for math acceleration and perform worse on the qualifying test, relative to boys with equivalent baseline performance. We find negative effects of acceleration on short-run retention of math knowledge for girls, but no such performance decay for boys. After initial exposure to accelerated math, girls are less likely than boys to appear in the accelerated track during late elementary school and at the start of middle school.
M. Lenard, M. Morrill, and J. Westall. Submitted. “High School Start Times and Student Achievement: Looking Beyond Test Scores”. Working paperAbstract
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends high schools begin after 8:30 AM to better align with the circadian rhythms of adolescents. Yet due to economic and logistic considerations such as transportation, athletics, and students’ after-school employment, the vast majority of high schools begin the school day considerably earlier. We leverage a quasi-natural experiment whereby five comprehensive high schools in a large and diverse school district moved start times forty minutes earlier to better coordinate with high schools already starting at 7:25 AM. In this setting, disruption effects from moving start times should exacerbate any harmful consequences of earlier start times. Early start times might negatively impact test scores, student engagement, and non-cognitive skill formation. 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.