Panel: Race and Achievement Gaps

Saturday, November 10, 2018: 8:30 AM-10:00 AM
Coolidge - Mezz Level (Marriott Wardman Park)

*Names in bold indicate Presenter

Panel Chairs:  Brian Kisida, University of Missouri
Discussants:  Anna J. Egalite, North Carolina State University and Katie Vinopal, The Ohio State University

Mass Incarceration and the Racial Achievement Gap
Daniel Litwok, Austin Nichols and Molly Brune, Abt Associates, Inc.

This panel presents three papers that broadly focus on topics related to racial disparities in academic achievement. The papers investigate different causes and correlates of achievement gaps: changes to the structure of school funding, race-congruence between students and teachers, and racial patterns of incarceration. This robust slate of approaches offers the panel audience the opportunity to think critically about this important policy problem from a variety of angles, making it a great fit for the conference theme of “Encouraging Innovation and Improvement.”

The first paper in the panel, authored by Thorson, focuses on the formulas used for school funding and enhancements to those formulas through funding enhancements. The identifying variation comes from state-level differences in education funding weights for socioeconomically disadvantaged students and English learners. The paper uses this variation to understand whether additional funding has raised the achievement levels of socioeconomically disadvantaged students and English learners and whether additional funding has closed the achievement gap for these groups.

The second paper in the panel, authored by Nguyen, studies the role of race/ethnicity in the student-teacher relationship. Like Thorson’s paper, this paper uses two-way fixed effects to identify racial/ethnic differentials within the classroom. Interestingly, the paper finds that minority students tend to have a closer and more positive relationship with their teachers than white students when they are taught by a minority teacher, a finding that is consistent with the role model effect where student behavior improves in classes taught by an own-race teacher.

The third paper in the panel, authored by Litwok, Nichols, and Brune, seeks to estimate the fraction of the racial achievement gap that can be explained by differences in rates of adult incarceration by race, where adults may be parents or role models that have a positive influence on children during their development. The paper constructs a dataset on incarceration rates by race and geography that is merged with nation-wide district-level achievement data to document associations of differential incarceration and test score gaps. Then, in a second analysis the paper uses variation in sentencing policy across time and place as an instrument to identify the causal impact of differential incarceration on test score gaps.

The panel’s two discussants, Anna Egalite and Katie Vinopal, are both scholars with extensive backgrounds in public policy evaluation, education, and methods for causal inference. Dr. Egalite’s work has specifically focused on addressing the racial achievement gap, and Dr. Vinopal is a published scholar on vulnerable children and families. Finally, the discussion will be stimulated by the panel chair, Brian Kisida, who has expertise in programs and policies for at-risk students to close the achievement gap.

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