Panel Paper: The Effect of Performance Standards on Employee Effort: Evidence from Teacher Absences

Thursday, November 6, 2014 : 1:40 PM
Aztec (Convention Center)

*Names in bold indicate Presenter

Seth Gershenson, American University
Employee absences are costly.  This is particularly true in education, as substitute teachers are expensive and teacher absences are known to harm student achievement in the U.S. and abroad.  If the causes of teacher absences are known, education policy may be designed to reduce teacher absences and thereby reduce the costs associated with teacher absences.  The proposed project furthers our understanding of how high-stakes accountability policies affect teacher labor markets by examining the impact of high-stakes accountability policies on teacher absences in North Carolina using longitudinal administrative data.  Specifically, the proposed project uses a difference-in-differences strategy to estimate the causal effect of North Carolina’s ABC accountability policy, and later the federal No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB), on public school teachers’ absence rates.  I also test for differential effects of these policies by observed teacher qualifications, value-added measures of teacher effectiveness, and school type.  The results will inform the design of future iterations of education policies, as well as labor-market policies more generally, by documenting how workers’ effort levels respond to changes in incentives and workplace environments.

It is somewhat surprising that the existing literature has yet to consider whether high-stakes accountability policies affect teacher absence rates, as considerable evidence suggests that such policies increase teacher turnover and many of the mechanisms through which accountability policies influence teacher turnover might similarly influence teacher absences.  For example, high-stakes testing might increase teacher absences by decreasing teachers’ classroom autonomy, decreasing teachers’ sense of job security, or increasing teachers’ stress levels. If such policies increase teacher absences, policy makers may respond by rearranging school calendars to include periodic vacation days. Alternatively, accountability regimes themselves may be reconstituted to reduce the stress and pressure placed on teachers. The proposed project contributes to our general understanding of the response of workers’ effort levels to labor-market policies and to the academic literatures on both teacher absences and the unintended consequences of high-stakes accountability programs by testing whether increases in accountability pressures caused by two high-stakes accountability policies in North Carolina impacted teacher absences rates.