It has long been thought that the United States education system is the great equalizer, lifting less advantaged children out of poverty and improving their chances for success in adulthood. The opportunity for economic and social mobility depends heavily, however, on access to high quality education. Recent research has raised concerns about degradation in the quality of schools serving higher-poverty neighborhoods: The achievement gap between low- and high-poverty students appears to have widened over the last quarter century (Reardon, 2011). In response to these concerns, federal, state, and local officials have enacted countless education reforms to improve the outcomes of low-income students. This dissertation examines two of those reforms to better understand how and if they are working.
The first paper focuses on California's state education accountability reform, which allowed the state to identify low-performing schools and target improvement efforts. The paper concentrates on a previously unstudied potential consequence of the reform: Whether the information on school academic performance, which had been previously unavailable, enabled voters to hold local leadership accountable.
The second and third papers assess a comprehensive reform to improve teacher and principal talent in high-poverty, low-performing schools. While the reform has various components, its main features are recruitment, retention, and performance bonuses for teachers and principals in schools with a greater concentration of high-poverty students. The third paper expands on these findings by exploring whether improving the talent within a school has an effect on student outcomes. Results suggest that while the program was not effective during the first three years of implementation, in the fourth year it shifted student performance by 0.28 standard deviations.