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Gladwell was right, and other research

Editor’s note: This is the first in an occasional series highlighting recent research in education. Education News Colorado is asking experts – researchers in the field – to help sort out what’s worth noting among the many reports, studies and papers surfacing in K-12 and higher education.

This list was compiled by Kristin Klopfenstein, executive director of the Education Innovation Institute at the University of Northern Colorado:

“There were different reasons for including each paper, including that the topic has been in the news lately, the research challenges what we thought we knew or the project was just fun. This list is not intended to be exhaustive — it is from a narrow list of sources written exclusively by economists. Neither EII nor UNC endorses the views expressed in these papers, but they are worth a look if they touch on topics of interest to you.”

Teachers, value-added and student earnings
Chetty, R., Friedman and Rockoff, J. December 2011. The Long-Term Impacts of Teachers: Teacher Value-Added and Student Outcomes in Adulthood. National Bureau of Economic Research, or NBER, working paper 17699. “This paper has gotten a ton of press in the past few weeks. It is an interesting paper linking teacher quality, as measured exclusively by value-added measures, to students’ earnings later in life. While it is interesting that this connection exists, the result doesn’t do anything to inform us about why and how teachers who have greater value-added turn out students who earn slightly more as adults.”

Incentives only work if people know what to do
Fryer, R. January 2012. Aligning Student, Parent, and Teacher Incentives: Evidence from Houston Public Schools. NBER working paper 17752. “Roland Fryer challenges the conventional wisdom about how and when monetary incentives matter. The gist of his work, including this paper, is that incentives (like paying kids, teachers, and/or parents) for higher student achievement only work if people know how to improve student achievement. He finds substantial evidence that, in many cases, motivation isn’t the problem—knowing what to do and how to do it is the problem.”

When schools invest more, so do parents
Belber, A. and Isen, A. December 2011. Children’s Schooling and Parents’ Investment in Children: Evidence from the Head Start Impact Study. NBER working paper 17704. “This study finds that when schools are investing more in their kids, parents up their investment as well. Interesting finding that could — if it gets much traction — add a twist to the school finance debate.”

For-profit schools in the postsecondary sector
Deming, D., Goldin, C. and Katz, L. December 2011. The For-Profit Postsecondary School Sector: Nimble Critters or Agile Predators? NBER working paper 17710 “For-profit schools are in the news a lot these days, and this is a well-done paper that yields the typical findings on for-profits in the postsecondary sector — these schools serve more diverse student populations but many end up unemployed and with crushing debt.”

Gladwell was right, or graduating in a recession
Oreopoulos, P., von Wachter, T. and Heisz, A. 2012. “The Short- and Long-Term Career Effects of Graduating in a Recession.” American Economic Journal: Applied Economics, 4(1): 1–29. “This is a really sobering article about how recent cohorts of college graduates are screwed for the long term. It fits in nicely with Malcolm Gladwell’s contention in Outliers that billionaires are not just smart but also lucky in terms of the timing of their birth.”

What a professor’s politics may say about grading practices
Bar, T. and Zussman, A. 2012. “Partisan Grading.” American Economic Journal: Applied Economics, 4(1): 30–48. “This article shows that profs who identify as Democrat have more egalitarian grade distributions than profs who self-identify as Republican. We probably don’t want to go there, but fun reading nonetheless!”

Keeping up with the latest research

How do you track the newest findings in education research?

How can you tell when a study is done well – or serving as a front for a predictable point of view?

Education News Colorado hopes this new occasional feature, Research in Review, will help.

We’re asking education researchers in Colorado to help us sort through all the reports, studies and papers making news – or circulating through our in-boxes – and figure out what’s worth an investment in time.

If you’d like to participate, or you have a suggestion for a researcher we should ask, let us know at

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