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Job Market Paper

Inequities and Impacts of New School Facilities

O'Hagan, K. G.


There is growing evidence that investment in school facilities, and new school construction in particular, can improve K-12 student outcomes, particularly for low-income students. Funding for school infrastructure, however, is inequitably distributed. Moreover, given a lack of national data on school facilities, researchers have focused on specific states or districts, leaving contextual variation understudied. This paper contributes to the literature on equity and impact of new school construction spending by examining New York City (NYC), which spent $12 billion on new K-12 school seats between 2005 and 2019. In contrast to prior studies, students who attend new school buildings in NYC, which were built to alleviate overcrowding, are disproportionately high-performing and White, and less low-income. Using detailed student and school building-level data, and a difference-in-differences estimator, I find that attending a new school building causes a statistically significant but small 1 percentage point improvement in attendance rate each year after three years in the new facility. Results for math and ELA scores are also small, but imprecise. These findings suggest policymakers should consider equity with respect to student poverty and performance in school infrastructure allocations, as this may in turn affect the return on investment.


Manuscripts Under Review

O'Hagan, K. G., Stiefel, L., & Schwartz, A.E.

Middle school transitions are increasingly required, despite documented negative effects on general education students (GENs). We explore if and how the move to middle school differentially affects students with disabilities (SWDs), a large and low-performing group of students. Using an instrumental variables strategy and NYC data on nine cohorts of students, we find the middle school transition causes a 0.29 standard deviation decline in SWD math performance, a 0.16 standard deviation decline in ELA performance, and a one percentage point increase in grade retention. However, after accounting for potential mediators (e.g. peer cohort stability) effects are similar for SWDs and GENs, suggesting the need to ease the middle school transition for all students.

EdWorkingPaper: 22-655


Does Special Education Work? Evidence from Large Administrative Data Sets

O'Hagan, K. G. & Stiefel, L.

Research increasingly seeks to answer the question: does special education work? This is different than asking if specific interventions have positive effects, and instead aims to identify system-wide impacts. We systematically review published quantitative research on the impact of receiving special education services on student outcomes using large administrative data, as well as review the methodology used in existing research to establish causal impacts. The qualitative takeaway from the 15 included studies is that special education had significant positive impacts on student outcomes, and the growth of students in special education typically matched or exceeded the growth of their general education peers. This counters a narrative of special education as ineffective, and signals researchers are producing results that can provide helpful insight to policymakers around special education. However, that relatively few studies met our inclusion criteria reflects the need for significant additional research.

Email for draft manuscript.


Stiefel, L., Fatima, S., Cimpian, J.R., & O'Hagan, K. G.

There has been an explosion of research on racial disproportionality in special education. Some recent research shifts the focus from the role of student characteristics alone to inquire whether school context moderates findings (e.g., is a Black student less likely than a White student to receive special education services as the proportion of a school’s Black students increases?). We significantly extend this emerging literature using eight years of elementary student-and school-level data from NYC public schools, examining more school contextual moderators, expanding racial categories, and distinguishing between cross-sectional and over-time differences. We find many more moderators than previous research has identified and these school context factors appear to be particularly salient for the classification of Black students.

EdWorkingPaper: 22-661


Staying Put: Positive Spillovers on Teacher Retention from a Middle School Science Initiative

Shiferaw, M., O'Hagan, K. G., Weinstein, M. 

Teacher shortages, especially in high-need subjects and schools, are a long-standing issue in many districts, and teacher attrition is a key driver. In this paper, we examine the association between a professional development-focused science initiative and middle school science teacher retention in the nation’s largest school district, NYC. We use detailed teacher-level administrative personnel data on 19 cohorts of teachers from NYC and Urban Advantage (UA) program participation data to estimate likelihood of attrition using a discrete-time hazard model. UA teachers are roughly 3.8 percentage points less likely than similarly situated non-UA teachers to leave their school the following year. This study contributes to the limited evidence on how professional development-focused programs can promote teacher retention in hard-to-staff subjects and schools.

SSRN Working Paper: 4542675


The Urban Advantage:  Comprehensive Science Professional Development and Student Achievement

Weinstein, M., Shiferaw, M., & O'Hagan, K. G.


This study evaluates the impact of the Urban Advantage (UA) program on eighth grade science test scores. The UA program provides high-intensity teacher professional development and additional support services (e.g. field trips, materials, principal engagement). We contribute to the literature on science professional development interventions to improve student outcomes, using a standardized assessment to assess impact and seven years of student-, school- and teacher-level data. Our empirical strategy relies on matching to create a treatment and comparison group with similar observed characteristics. Results suggest, across all schools, performance in eighth grade science is not higher for students taught by a UA teacher compared to those without a UA teacher. However, comparing students within the same school, students with a UA teacher perform 0.02 standard deviations higher than students without a UA teacher. The magnitude of effects differs across subgroups; for instance, we find students with disabilities with a UA teacher are 1.5 pp more likely to meet eighth grade science proficiency standards compared to similar students in the same school. The analyses provide evidence that UA continues to be a successful intervention—though impacts may be smaller than previously estimated. In context with prior research on professional learning in science, the positive findings suggest districts with comparable access to informal science education institutions may want to implement similar programming.

SSRN Working Paper: 4542712


Staffing Interventions to Support Students Experiencing Homelessness: Evidence from New York City

O'Hagan, K. G. & Mirakhur, Z.


There is limited empirical evidence about educational interventions for students experiencing homelessness, who experience distinct disadvantages compared to their low-income peers. We explore how two school staffing interventions in New York City shaped the attendance outcomes of students experiencing homelessness using administrative records from 2013-2022 and a difference-in-differences design. We find suggestive evidence that one intervention, which placed social workers in schools, increased the average attendance rates of students in shelter by 1-3 percentage points after 3-5 years. We discuss implications for the importance of non-instructional school staff and strategies to serve homeless students.

Email for draft manuscript.

Working Papers

A National Analysis of Federal Funding for Students Experiencing Homelessness

O'Hagan, K. G.


United States schools served 1.2 million students experiencing homelessness (SEH) in 2022—a large and increasing portion of students. SEH face distinct challenges relative to their low-income peers, but receive little dedicated education funding. This paper examines federal funding for SEH allocated through the McKinney-Vento Act (MVA). I find that funding is progressively targeted: a 1 percentage point (pp) increase in the portion of SEH is associated with a 2.5 pp increase in the likelihood of MVA subgrant receipt. However, across states, there is wide variation in the strength of progressivity, the portion of districts that receive funding, and the amount of funding per SEH. I also find that the portion of SEH identified in a district increases after MVA subgrant receipt (and decreases after subgrant loss). This is noteworthy, as there is significant under-identification of SEH. I discuss implications for policy and finance to support this population.

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