Panel: Be There or be Square: New Evidence on the Causes and Consequences of Student and Teacher Absence

Saturday, November 10, 2018: 8:30 AM-10:00 AM
8209 - Lobby Level (Marriott Wardman Park)

*Names in bold indicate Presenter

Discussants:  Hedy Chang, Attendance Works and Jonah Rockoff, Columbia University

Better Together? Social Networks in Truancy and the Targeting of Treatment
Magdalena Bennett and Peter Bergman, Columbia University

Experimental Estimates of the Student Attendance Production Function
Long Tran and Seth Gershenson, American University

The Effect of Teacher Strikes on Parental Labor Market Behavior
Alexander L.P. Willén, Norwegian School of Economics and David Jaume, Cornell University

Student learning requires the presence of both teachers and students in classrooms. Student absenteeism is a growing concern for education leaders and researchers, yet the factors leading to student absence and strategies for effectively reducing absenteeism are less well understood. Analogously, teacher absence is shown to negatively impact student achievement, but research is scarce on how the use of substitute teachers and parental responses might mitigate these negative impacts. This panel presents new evidence regarding several key yet different aspects of student and teacher absence. The four papers leverage a wide range of methodologies, such as experimental design and social network analysis, and exploit rich administrative data and survey data to answer these questions.


The first two papers focus on unpacking the mechanisms of student absence and designing interventions to reduce student absences. The first paper applies a social network approach based on students who miss class together. Relying on the fact that students often coordinate absences, the authors leverage a parent-information intervention on student absences to provide evidence for spillover effects from treated students onto peers in their network. The second paper aims to provide a general understanding of how various classroom inputs affect student attendance, including class size, teacher characteristics, and peer characteristics. Using the experimental variation in classroom assignments created by the Tennessee’s Project STAR class size experiment, this paper estimates both the aggregate impacts of classrooms on chronic absence rates and also identifies specific classroom inputs.


The second two papers examine the impact of teacher absence on student outcomes and how such effects interact with the use of substitute teachers and parental labor market responses. The first paper uses detailed administrative and survey data from a medium-sized urban school district to document the unequal distribution of teacher absences and substitute teachers across schools. It further estimates the impact of teacher absence and the use of substitute teachers on student achievement and attendance. The second paper examines a controversial yet timely topic–teacher strikes. The authors examine how teacher strikes in Argentina affect the labor market behavior of parents, and how such responses influence education inequality and socioeconomic segregation.


Collectively, this panel makes two important contributions: (1) they tackle the sophisticated interactions between students, peers, teachers, and parents in education production function through a behavioral perspective; and (2) provide new evidence to inform ways in which we can design new interventions and policies to reduce student absenteeism and mitigate the negative effects of teacher absence in order to promote both educational excellence and equity. Panel participants include leading scholars and junior researchers, and practitioners from multiple institutions (e.g., American University, Brown University, Columbia University, Harvard University, Stanford University, and Attendance Works).

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