March 28, 2024

March 2024 Research Rundown

By Madie Spartz

For our March Research Rundown of the year—our curated list of recent, relevant research we think is worth adding to the education equity conversation— we’re sharing articles about:

  • The impact of having a same-race teacher on identification for special services
  • Segregation and school funding inequities across district boundaries
  • The effects of tuition-reduction programs on college enrollment
Teacher-Student Race Match and Identification for Discretionary Educational Services

American Education Research Journal, March 2024

This study examines whether having a Black teacher impacts Black students’ referral to gifted programs and special education services. The authors build on a large body of research that suggests Black students have improved educational outcomes when they have a Black teacher, including higher graduation rates, better attendance, and improved performance on tests. These findings interact with another body of research that suggests students of color are disproportionately referred to special education services.

The authors found that Black students, particularly Black boys, were less likely to be referred to special education services when they had a Black teacher. The effect was most pronounced for economically disadvantaged Black boys, as well as for disabilities that are more subjective in their identification. These findings echo prior research that found Black students with a Black teacher are less likely to have discipline referrals that rely heavily on teacher discretion. While the authors emphasize the current study doesn’t identify why the differences in special education referrals happen, it provides evidence that having teachers of color can reduce the over-representation of students of color in special education.

Why This Matters in Minnesota

Minnesota’s teacher workforce is still overwhelmingly white, with just 6% of teachers identifying as people of color—and even that is an improvement over recent years. Narrowing in even further to the focus of the study, just 1% of teachers in Minnesota are Black, while Black students make up nearly 12% of Minnesota’s student population. As this study and many others show, discrepancies in teacher-student diversity can have serious impacts on student experience and outcomes. This highlights the policy imperative of crafting intentional strategies to increase teacher diversity. Just a few examples of policy on the table at the Capitol this year include stipends to support the cost of unpaid student teaching for underrepresented educator groups, and supports for the cost of tuition.

Unfortunately, statewide data on disproportionate representation in special education isn’t available—the public can only access that data on a district level, unless they submit a special request. Without readily available data, we don’t know the exact patterns of overrepresentation in special education or whether they are changing over time. Regardless, the study reaffirms the importance of a teacher workforce that reflects the demographics of Minnesota students.


Crossing the Line: Segregation and Resource Inequality Between America’s School Districts

New America, March 2024

This report, including an interactive map and multimedia story, explores the link between historic housing segregation practices and school funding. In most states, there is still a link between school funding and local property taxes—and those differences in property value can be a strong driver of disparities in funding. Moreover, the concentration of poverty and other needs can mean that some districts need significantly more per student to effectively support student needs. The United States’ history of housing segregation, via tactics like racially restrictive covenants, has a lasting impact on the contours of local neighborhoods—and our school systems remain closely tied to these geographic boundaries. The authors examined nearly 25,000 neighboring districts for both economic and racial segregation and identified the 100 most-segregated areas in the United States. 

They found the average school district border in the U.S. has a 5% difference in poverty rate and 14% difference in the proportion of students of color. In pairings with the most segregation across districts, those numbers are 31% and 78% respectively. Because high-poverty districts and those with more students of color tend to have lower property values, this puts an imperative on state governments to provide equitable funding to balance the variation in local tax capacity. The authors discuss how rethinking school district boundaries can diversify school communities, and the importance of statewide funding mechanisms that reduce reliance on variable property tax bases. 

Why This Matters in Minnesota

The report listed 100 district boundaries with the most dramatic demographic difference on one side of the live vs the other. Of those 100, three are in northern Minnesota: Cass Lake-Bena and Grand Rapids, Fertile-Beltrami and Mahnomen, and Mahonmen and Win-e-Mac. Mahnomen and Cass Lake-Bena Public Schools serve majority Indigenous students, while their neighboring districts are mostly white. State funding plays a critical role in balancing out notable differences in local tax capacity across these districts. The interactive report also allows for exploration of variation across geographically close but demographically different districts in the Twin Cities metro area. Data like this serves as an important reminder of the very real role of equitable funding decisions at the Capitol, and the lasting impact of housing and other economic policies that drive neighborhood segregation—as well as the collateral consequences. 


Do Students Respond to Sticker Price Reductions?: Evidence from the North Carolina Promise

Annenberg Institute at Brown University, March 2024

This study examined the effects of the North Carolina Promise, a program that lowered tuition for all students attending three universities in the North Carolina public system. The authors studied potential enrollment changes as a result of a “sticker price reduction,” referring to broad public understanding of how much it costs to attend a specific school. The authors did not find significant increased enrollment of first-year students, but they did find that transfer admissions went up as a result of the policy. This suggests that the tuition reduction enabled community college students seeking a Bachelor’s degree to successfully transfer to a four-year institution. Furthermore, the authors found increased enrollment for Latino students at one university in a diverse area of the state. Given the fact that most students attend college close to home, the authors conclude the policy served to benefit students already in a university’s community, even if it didn’t draw those from other parts of the state. 

Why This Matters in Minnesota

Last year, lawmakers passed the North Star Promise, a program that makes tuition at public Minnesota universities free for students from low-income families. While this program differs from North Carolina’s in that it’s targeted at specific groups, the study offers some insight into how the North Star Promise may affect college enrollment in Minnesota. Particularly, it offers a reminder that even if enrollment among the most recent high school graduating class doesn’t increase dramatically, it doesn’t mean the program isn’t working. Students attending community college, or nontraditional students looking to re-enroll, switch careers, or advance in their field all stand to benefit from the North Star Promise. Any future assessment of the North Star Promise should be sure to include several metrics of success. 


2024 Mid-Session Madness: Which Student-Centered Policies Will Advance?

Read More