Below are some of our research papers.

Government Privatization and Political Participation: The Case of Charter Schools

Governments around the world have privatized public services in the name of efficiency and citizen empowerment, but some argue that privatization could also affect citizen participation in democratic governance. We explore this possibility by estimating the impact of charter schools (which are publicly funded but privately operated) on school district elections. The analysis indicates that the enrollment of district students in charter schools reduced the number of votes cast in district school board contests and, correspondingly, reduced turnout in the odd-year elections in which those contests are held. This impact is concentrated in districts that serve low-achieving, impoverished, and minority students, leading to a modest decline in the share of voters in those districts who are black and who have children. There is little evidence that charter school expansion affected the outcomes of school board elections or turnout in other elections

Jason Cook, Vladimir Kogan, Stéphane Lavertu, and Zachary Peskowitz. Forthcoming. “Government Privatization and Political Participation: The Case of Charter Schools” Journal of Politics

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Election Timing, Electorate Composition, and Policy Outcomes: Evidence from School Districts

There is considerable debate about how election timing shapes who votes, election outcomes, and, ultimately, public policy. We examine these matters by combining information on more than 10,000 school district tax referenda with detailed micro-targeting data on voters participating in each election. The analysis confirms that timing influences voter composition in terms of partisanship, ideology, and the numerical strength of powerful interest groups. But, in contrast to prominent theories of election timing, these effects are modest in terms of their likely impact on election outcomes. Instead, timing has the most significant impact on voter age, with the elderly being the most over-represented group in low-turnout special elections. The electoral (and policy) implications of this effect vary between states, however, depending on whether seniors are sheltered from local taxation.

Vladimir Kogan, Stéphane Lavertu, and Zachary Peskowitz. 2018. “Election Timing, Electorate Composition, and Policy Outcomes: Evidence from School Districts” American Journal of Political Science 62(3): 637-651.

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Performance Federalism and Local Democracy: Theory and Evidence from School Tax Referenda

Federal governments are increasingly employing empirical measures of lower-level government performance to ensure that provincial and local jurisdictions pursue national policy goals. We call this burgeoning phenomenon performance federalism and argue that it can distort democratic accountability in lower-level elections. We estimate the impact of a widely publicized federal indicator of local school district performance — one that we show does not allow voters to draw valid inferences about the quality of local educational institutions — on voter support for school tax levies in a U.S. state uniquely appropriate for this analysis. The results indicate that a federal signal of poor district performance increases the probability of levy failure -- a substantively large and robust effect that disproportionately affects impoverished communities. The analysis employs a number of identification strategies and tests for multiple behavioral mechanisms to support the causal interpretation of these findings.

Vladimir Kogan, Stéphane Lavertu, and Zachary Peskowitz. 2016. “Performance Federalism and Local Democracy: Theory and Evidence from School Tax Referenda” American Journal of Political Science 60(2): 418-435.

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Do School Report Cards Produce Accountability through the Ballot Box?

Public education has been transformed by the widespread adoption of accountability systems that involve the dissemination of school district performance information. Using data from Ohio, we examine if elections serve as one channel through which these accountability systems might lead to improvements in educational quality. We find little evidence that poor performance on widely disseminated state and federal indicators has an impact on school board turnover, the vote share of sitting school board members, or superintendent tenure, suggesting that the dissemination of district performance information puts little (if any) electoral pressure on elected officials to improve student achievement.

Vladimir Kogan, Stéphane Lavertu, and Zachary Peskowitz. 2016. “Do School Report Cards Produce Accountability Through the Ballot Box?” Journal of Policy Analysis & Management 35(3): 639-661.

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Direct Democracy and Administrative Disruption

Direct democracy is often touted as a means of reining in the administrative state, but it could also hinder the performance of public organizations. In particular, we argue that bargaining dynamics between voters and government officials can lead to costly administrative disruptions. We explore this issue by estimating the impact of Ohio tax referenda on school district administration using a regression discontinuity approach. The results suggest that administrators in districts where referenda failed sought to insulate core functions from revenue declines. Nonetheless, referendum failure (as opposed to passage) led to lower instructional spending, teacher attrition, and lower student achievement growth. Spending and performance generally rebounded within a few years, however, as districts eventually secured approval for a subsequent tax proposal. These results illustrate how involving citizens in decision-making can entail short-term transaction costs in the form of decreased administrative performance, which in this case may have had lasting achievement effects for students attending school in the wake of a referendum failure.

Vladimir Kogan, Stéphane Lavertu, and Zachary Peskowitz. 2017. “Direct Democracy and Administrative Disruption” Journal of Public Administration Research & Theory 27(3): 381-399

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Beyond Spending Levels: Revenue Uncertainty and the Performance of Local Governments

Revenue uncertainty is a common concern among public administrators, but little research examines its effects on service delivery. Using a novel empirical strategy to capture how revenues deviate from administrators' expectations, we estimate the impact of revenue uncertainty on Ohio public school districts' educational effectiveness. We find that errors in districts' revenue forecasts can have a significant negative impact on student achievement, beyond what one would expect based on changes in spending levels. In particular, a one percentage point increase in error involving revenue shortfalls can lead to declines in student achievement growth of up to 0.02 standard deviations during the following school year, which equates to about 8 days' worth of learning. These effects are concentrated in large, non-rural school districts with relatively low fund balances.

Stéphane Lavertu and Travis St. Clair. 2018. “Beyond Spending Levels: Revenue Uncertainty and the Performance of Local Governments” Journal of Urban Economics 106: 59-80.

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Charter School Closure and Student Achievement: Evidence from Ohio

The closure of low-performing schools is an essential feature of the charter school model. Our regression discontinuity analysis uses an exogenous source of variation in school closure—an Ohio law that requires charter schools to close if they fail to meet a specific performance standard—to estimate the causal effect of closure on student achievement. The results indicate that closing low-performing charter schools eventually yields achievement gains of around 0.2-0.3 standard deviations in reading and math for students attending these schools at the time they were identified for closure. The study also employs mandatory closure as an instrument for estimating the impact of exiting low-quality charter schools, thus providing plausible lower-bound estimates of charter school effectiveness. These results complement the more common lottery-based estimates of charter school effects, which likely serve as upper-bound estimates due to their focus on oversubscribed schools often located in cities with high-performing charter sectors. We discuss the implications for research and policy.

Deven Carlson and Stéphane Lavertu. 2016. “Charter School Closure and Student Achievement: Evidence from Ohio” Journal of Urban Economics 95: 31-48.

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School Improvement Grants in Ohio: Effects on Student Achievement and School Administration

The federal School Improvement Grant (SIG) program allocated $7 billion over nearly a decade in an effort to produce rapid and lasting improvements in schools identified as low performing. In this paper, we use a regression discontinuity design to estimate the effect of Ohio’s SIG turnaround efforts on student achievement and school administration. The results indicate that Ohio’s SIG program significantly increased reading and math achievement, with effects in both subjects of up to 0.20 standard deviations in the second year after SIG eligibility identification. Estimates for the third year are somewhat larger, in the range of one-quarter of a standard deviation. We provide evidence that these effects were primarily attributable to schools that implemented the SIG Turnaround model. We also show that SIG eligibility had a positive effect on per-pupil spending, but no average effect on administrative outcomes, including staff turnover, the number of staff members in the school, and school closure. These null overall effects mask heterogeneity across SIG models, however. Most notably, Turnaround schools experienced more turnover than they otherwise would have, whereas Transformation schools experienced less.

Deven Carlson and Stéphane Lavertu. 2018. “School Improvement Grants in Ohio: Effects on Student Achievement and School Administration” Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis 40(3): 287-315.

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