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Research@SPA: Public Policy

Research at SPA

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Civil Unrest Leads to Student Achievement Decline

In 2014, a highly publicized police shooting of an unarmed black teenager in Ferguson, Missouri triggered community protests that had profound effects on student achievement. According to an study published August 2, 2016 by the Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA), disruptive outside events can cause student and teacher absences, leading to lower grades and test scores. The research was conducted by Seth Gershenson, assistant professor at American University’s School of Public Affairs, and Michael S. Hayes, assistant professor at Rutgers University, Camden.

Children in Every Neighborhood Currently at Risk of Food Insecurity, Says New Study

A new study led by SPA assistant professor Taryn Morrissey shows that children at risk for food insecurity can be found in communities across the income spectrum. Nearly one in four (22%) of kindergarteners in high-poverty communities lived in food-insecure households, compared to almost one in ten (9%) of those in low-poverty communities – a lower rate, but still high. The study authors found that household resources, particularly family income and education, rather than neighborhood food access, largely explained much of the link between neighborhood poverty and food insecurity, with the exception of more severe child-level insecurity. Morrissey’s article, “Neighborhood Poverty and Children's Food Insecurity,” was published online in the journal Children and Youth Services Review.

Food Prices and Obesity

SPA faculty members Taryn Morrissey and Alison Jacknowitz, and doctoral student Katie Vinopal find that high prices for fresh fruits and vegetables are associated with higher Body Mass Index (BMI) in young children in low- and middle-income households.

When the prices of fruits and vegetables go up, families may buy fewer of them and substitute cheaper foods that might be less healthy and have more calories, the study found. Titled “The Influences of Local Food Prices on Children’s Obesity and Eating Habits,” the study focuses on households under 300 percent of the federal poverty line, or a family of four earning $70,650 in 2013. It was published in Pediatrics.

Childcare Subsidies and Child Development

Erdal Tekin and Chris Herbst conducted research to analyze the effect of childcare subsidies on child development.

Their study, “The Impact of Childcare Subsidies on Child Well-Being: Evidence from Geographic Variation in the Distance to Social Service Agencies,” suggests children receiving subsidized care the year before kindergarten score lower on cognitive tests, exhibiting more behavior problems throughout kindergarten. But the negative effects largely disappear by the time children finish third grade. The study suggests that, although the U.S. childcare subsidy policy has been effective at increasing employment among low-income mothers, it has been less successful at enhancing the health and well-being of children and families. The study is forthcoming in the Journal of Policy Analysis and Management.

Exploring the Impact of Income Volatility

Research by Bradley Hardy connects the relationship between exposure to volatile income during childhood and a set of socioeconomic outcomes in adulthood.

Using data linked across generations, the study, “Childhood Income Volatility and Adult Outcomes,” finds that family income volatility during childhood has a modest negative association with educational attainment. The study shows that the negative association between volatility exposure and educational attainment is largest for young adults from moderate- income families. It appears in Demography.

Teachers and Racial Bias

A recent study by Seth Gershenson suggests implicit racial bias may impact teacher expectations of students. The research found that non-black teachers have significantly lower expectations than do black teachers when evaluating the same students. Many believe that teacher expectations have a significant impact on educational development and attainment. The working paper, titled "Who Believes in Me? The Effect of Student-Teacher Demographic Match on Teacher Expectations," was published by the Upjohn Institute.

Book cover: Capital DilemmaCapital Dilemma: Growth and Inequality in Washington, DC, co-edited by Derek Hyra, uncovers and explains the dynamics that have influenced the contemporary economic advancement of Washington, DC.


Recent Articles & Papers

Addington, L. A. (Forthcoming). “Using Constitutional Law Classes to Address the Civic Engagement Gap among Inner-City Public High School Students,” Education and Urban Society

Fiorino, D. (2014). “The Green Economy: Mythical or Magical?” Policy Quarterly, 10, pp. 26-34

Fiorino, D. (2014). “Streams of Environmental Innovation: Four Decades of EPA Policy Reform,” Environmental Law, (44), pp. 723-760

Gershenson, S. (Forthcoming). “Linking teacher quality, student attendance, and student achievement,” Education Finance & Policy

Brummet, Q., Gershenson, S., and Hayes, M. (Forthcoming). “Teachers’ Grade-Level Reassignments: Evidence from Michigan,” Educational Policy

Gershenson, S. and Langbein, L. I. (Forthcoming). “The Effect of Primary School Size on Academic Achievement,” Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis

Hardy, B. (2014). “Decomposing Trends in Income Volatility: The ‘Wild Ride’ at the Top and Bottom,” Economic Inquiry, 52(1), pp. 459-476

Metzger, M. W., Fowler, P. J., Anderson, C. L., & Lindsay, C. A. (2015). “Residential Mobility During Adolescence: Even ‘Upward’ Moves Predict Dropout Risk,” Social Science Research, 53, pp. 218-230

McCurdy, H. E. (2014). “Reaching for Higher Altitudes: Mountaineering Analogies and the Commercialization of Outer Space,” Astropolitics: The International Journal of Space Politics and Policy, 12(2-3), pp. 132-147

Morrissey, T. W. and Dagher, R. (2014). “A Longitudinal Analysis of Maternal Depression and Its Associations with Child Obesity and Health Care Use,” Public Health Nutrition, 15, pp. 1-10 

Morrissey, T. W., Hutchison, L.A., and Winsler, A. (2014). “Family Income, School Absences, and Student Achievement,” Developmental Psychology, 50(3), pp. 741-753

Morrissey, T. W. (2014). “Maternal Depressive Symptoms and Weight-Related Parenting Behaviors,” Maternal and Child Health Journal, 18(6), pp. 1328-1335

Mullins, D. R. and Mikesell, J. L. (2014). “Local Property Tax Yields and Burdens: Into the Great Recession and Beyond,” State Tax Notes, 72 (Accepted January 2014)

Shiffman, J. (2014). “Generating Political Priority for Newborn Survival in Three Low-Income Countries,” Global Public Health, pp. 1-17

Shiffman, J. (2014). “The Bit in the Middle: A Synthesis of Global Health Literature on Policy Formulation,” Health Policy and Planning, pp. iii23-iii34

Currie J. and Tekin, E. (2015). “Is There Link Between Foreclosure and Health?” American Economic Journal: Economic Policy, 7(1), pp. 63-94

Wilkins, V. M., Atkins, D., and Fertig, A. (2014). “Connectedness and Expectations: How Minority Teachers Can Improve Educational Outcomes for Minority Students,” Public Management Review, 16, pp. 503-526

Wilkins, V. M. and Wenger, J. B. (2014). “Belief in a Just World and Attitudes Toward Affirmative Action,” Policy Studies Journal, 42, pp. 325-343