Indiana University SPEA Edward J. Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy University of Pennsylvania AIR American University

Poster Paper: Teachers like Us: The Effect of Student-Teacher Demographic Mismatch on Student Attendance

Saturday, November 14, 2015
Riverfront South/Central (Hyatt Regency Miami)

*Names in bold indicate Presenter

Stephen Holt and Seth Gershenson, American University
Student absences can disrupt learning and have received a great deal of attention from both researchers and policymakers. Prior research has shown student absences set students back academically and put them at risk for future truancy. The relationship between teachers, school staff, and families can affect student absenteeism. Representative Bureaucracy Theory (RBT) examines the relationships between the characteristics of public agents, their behaviors, and their reception by the public they govern. Accordingly, RBT provides insight into the role diversity in teacher staffing plays in shaping elementary student absences. This study examines elementary student absences through the lens of RBT to test for a relationship between the demographic characteristics of teachers, students, and engagement.

RBT distinguishes between passive and active representation (Mosher, 1968). Krislov (1974) argues passive representation sends symbolic signals of equal opportunity for social advancement, which lend legitimacy to bureaucratic decisions. Studies of representation among bureaucrats show citizens perceive public agents and public services more positively when bureaucracies are more representative (e.g. Marchall & Ruhil, 2007; Theobald & Haider-Markel, 2008). Other studies provide evidence that passive and active representation are linked, and bureaucracies yield more positive decisions for subgroups as they gain representation in the public workforce (Meier & Stewart, 1992; Selden, 1997; Keiser et al., 2002).

As Gershenson (2014) notes, teachers may influence elementary student attendance by contact with parents or increasing student engagement. Indeed, teacher-parent relationships can lower student absenteeism (Epstein & Sheldon, 2002); thus, a school serving a diverse student body may receive more parental support when the teacher workforce is similarly diverse. Finally, evidence suggests teachers have higher subjective assessments of same-race students (Meier & Stewart, 1992; Dee, 2005; Ouazad, 2014). Teachers may engage in more active representation as a result of higher assessments of same-race students (Jennings & DiPrete, 2010; Gershenson, 2014).

Few studies have explicitly disentangled passive and active representation in bureaucracies. This study fills that gap by looking at the effects of individual-level and organizational-level representation on public buy-in.

We will exploit linked student- and teacher-level panel data to model student absences, controlling for teacher characteristics (e.g. race, gender), student characteristics (e.g. academic ability, demographics), and classroom-level fixed effects (FE) to control for unobserved classroom dynamics that may affect absences. To model school-level diversity among teachers, we will control for a vector of school characteristics and measures of diversity in the student body and teacher workforce (Blau, 1977). The study will use student-level data in the North Carolina Education Research Data Center (NCERDC) database and data from the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study, 1998 (ECLS-K).