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

call out

Our readers had a lot to say in 2017. Make your voice heard in 2018.

PHOTO: Chris Hill/Whitney Achievement School
Teacher Carl Schneider walks children home in 2015 as part of the after-school walking program at Whitney Achievement Elementary School in Memphis. This photograph went viral and inspired a First Person reflection from Schneider in 2017.

Last year, some of our most popular pieces came from readers who told their stories in a series that we call First Person.

For instance, Carl Schneider wrote about the 2015 viral photograph that showed him walking his students home from school in a low-income neighborhood of Memphis. His perspective on what got lost in the shuffle continues to draw thousands of readers.

First Person is also a platform to influence policy. Recent high school graduate Anisah Karim described the pressure she felt to apply to 100 colleges in the quest for millions of dollars in scholarships. Because of her piece, the school board in Memphis is reviewing the so-called “million-dollar scholar” culture at some high schools.

Do you have a story to tell or a point to make? In 2018, we want to give an even greater voice to students, parents, teachers, administrators, advocates and others who are trying to improve public education in Tennessee. We’re looking for essays of 500 to 750 words grounded in personal experience.

Whether your piece is finished or you just have an idea to discuss, drop a line to Community Editor Caroline Bauman at

But first, check out these top First Person pieces from Tennesseans in 2017:

My high school told me to apply to 100 colleges — and I almost lost myself in the process

“A counselor never tried to determine what the absolute best school for me would be. I wasted a lot of time, money and resources trying to figure that out. And I almost lost myself in the process.” —Anisah Karim     

Why I’m not anxious about where my kids go to school — but do worry about the segregation that surrounds us

“In fact, it will be a good thing for my boys to learn alongside children who are different from them in many ways — that is one advantage they will have that I did not, attending parochial schools in a lily-white suburb.” —Mary Jo Cramb

I covered Tennessee’s ed beat for Chalkbeat. Here’s what I learned.

“Apathy is often cited as a major problem facing education. That’s not the case in Tennessee.” —Grace Tatter

I went viral for walking my students home from school in Memphis. Here’s what got lost in the shuffle.

“When #blacklivesmatter is a controversial statement; when our black male students have a one in three chance of facing jail time; when kids in Memphis raised in the bottom fifth of the socioeconomic bracket have a 2.6 percent chance of climbing to the top fifth — our walking students home does not fix that, either.” —Carl Schneider

I think traditional public schools are the backbone of democracy. My child attends a charter school. Let’s talk.

“It was a complicated choice to make. The dialogue around school choice in Nashville, though, doesn’t often include much nuance — or many voices of parents like me.” —Aidan Hoyal

I grew up near Charlottesville and got a misleading education about Civil War history. Students deserve better.

“In my classroom discussions, the impetus for the Civil War was resigned to a debate over the balance of power between federal and state governments. Slavery was taught as a footnote to the cause of the war.” —Laura Faith Kebede

Weekend Reads

Need classroom decor inspiration? These educators have got you covered.

This school year, students will spend about 1,000 hours in school —making their classrooms a huge part of their learning experience.

We’re recognizing educators who’ve poured on the pizazz to make students feel welcome. From a 9th-grade “forensics lab” decked out in caution tape to a classroom stage complete with lights to get first graders pumped about public speaking, these crafty teachers have gone above and beyond to create great spaces.

Got a classroom of your own to show off? Know someone that should be on this list? Let us know!

Jaclyn Flores, First Grade Dual Language, Rochester, New York
“Having a classroom that is bright, cheerful, organized and inviting allows my students to feel pride in their classroom as well as feel welcome. My students look forward to standing on the stage to share or sitting on special chairs to dive into their learning. This space is a safe place for my students and we take pride in what it has become.”

Jasmine, Pre-K, Las Vegas, Nevada
“My classroom environment helps my students because providing calming colors and a home-like space makes them feel more comfortable in the classroom and ready to learn as first-time students!”


Oneika Osborne, 10th Grade Reading, Miami Southridge Senior High School, Miami, Florida
“My classroom environment invites all of my students to constantly be in a state of celebration and self-empowerment at all points of the learning process. With inspirational quotes, culturally relevant images, and an explosion of color, my classroom sets the tone for the day every single day as soon as we walk in. It is one of optimism, power, and of course glitter.”

Kristen Poindexter, Kindergarten, Spring Mill Elementary School, Indianapolis, Indiana
“I try very hard to make my classroom a place where memorable experiences happen. I use songs, finger plays, movement, and interactive activities to help cement concepts in their minds. It makes my teacher heart so happy when past students walk by my classroom and start their sentence with, “Remember when we…?”. We recently transformed our classroom into a Mad Science Lab where we investigated more about our 5 Senses.”


Brittany, 9th Grade Biology, Dallas, Texas
“I love my classroom environment because I teach Biology, it’s easy to relate every topic back to Forensics and real-life investigations! Mystery always gets the students going!”


Ms. Heaton, First Grade, Westampton, New Jersey
“As an educator, it is my goal to create a classroom environment that is positive and welcoming for students. I wanted to create a learning environment where students feel comfortable and in return stimulates student learning. A classroom is a second home for students so I wanted to ensure that the space was bright, friendly, and organized for the students to be able to use each and every day.”

D’Essence Grant, 8th Grade ELA, KIPP Houston, Houston, Texas
“Intentionally decorating my classroom was my first act of showing my students I care about them. I pride myself on building relationships with my students and them knowing I care about them inside and outside of the classroom. Taking the time to make the classroom meaningful and creative as well building a safe place for our community helps establish an effective classroom setting.”


Jayme Wiertzema, Elementary Art, Worthington, Minnesota
“I’m looking forward to having a CLASSROOM this year. The past two years I have taught from a cart and this year my amazing school district allowed me to have a classroom in our school that is busting at the seams! I’m so excited to use my classroom environment to inspire creativity in my students, get to know them and learn from their amazing imaginations in art class!”


Melissa Vecchio, 4th Grade, Queens, New York
“Since so much of a student’s time is spent inside their classroom, the environment should be neat, organized, easy to move around in but most of all positive. I love to use a theme to reinforce great behavior. I always give the students a choice in helping to design bulletin boards and desk arrangements. When they are involved they take pride in the classroom, and enjoy being there.”