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New IPR Research: August 2019

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Below is this month's new research from IPR faculty.

Education Policy 

The Impact of Refugees on Classmates’ Schooling

The world today faces the largest refugee crisis since the end of World War II. How to cope with the number of asylum seekers raises pressing concerns, notably the ability of schools to absorb refugee students. In the first investigation of the impact of a large influx of refugees on the educational outcomes of their classmates, David Figlio and Umut Özek of the American Institutes for Research examine what happened when Haitian earthquake survivors entered Florida schools in 2010. Florida public schools received more than 4,000 refugee students—overwhelmingly in just four school districts—by the end of the 2009–10 school year. Using longitudinal education microdata, the researchers examine the effects of the refugees over two years on various subgroups of incumbent students, including blacks, limited English proficiency (LEP) students, non-LEP students, and immigrant students, both from Haiti and elsewhere. In their study, Figlio and Özek report the influx of Haitian students had no effects on incumbent students’ test scores, disciplinary incidents, and student mobility across all groups, regardless of the incumbent students’ socioeconomic status, grade level, ethnicity, or birthplace.

Politics, Institutions, and Public Policy

Campaign Rhetoric and the Incumbency Advantage

Incumbent candidates hold a significant advantage during elections. A study by IPR political scientist James Druckman finds that incumbents use the election campaign to focus on their familiarity to voters and their work for their constituents, giving them an advantage over challengers. Druckman and his colleagues used the 2010 House election in the Illinois 9th District between incumbent Democrat Jan Schakowsky and challenger Republican Joel Pollak to assess the attitudes of nearly 400 voters toward incumbents. They created a website for each candidate emphasizing using either an incumbent’s strategy—highlighting the incumbent’s experience and familiarity to voters—or a challenger’s strategy—highlighting her or his policy positions and character traits, such as perceived honesty and leadership. After viewing the website, the researchers asked voters to take a survey about their perceptions of Schakowsky and Pollak and how likely they would be to vote for each candidate. They find that even when a challenger highlights his or her policy positions and traits, the incumbent has the advantage in focusing on his or her experience and familiarity, rather than policies and traits. “The campaign is a mechanism through which the incumbency advantage works,” the researchers write. They point out that factors that bias voters toward the incumbent incentivize the incumbent to only focus on those factors during an election. 

From Personal to Partisan: Abortion, Party and Religion in the California State Assembly, 1967-96

In a forthcoming paper in Studies in American Political Development, IPR political scientist Chloe Thurston examines how politicians changed their voting behavior to shift from personal to partisan beliefs over time. Thurston and her co-author David Karol looked at how legislators in the California State Assembly voted on abortion issues between 1967 and 1996 to understand this change in behavior. The study finds that abortion was not a party issue when it was first passed as legislation in 1967 and that religion was a better predictor of a politician’s vote on abortion than party membership. Catholics, including Democratic legislators, were more pro-life than other legislators in the 1960s. By the 1980s, Catholic legislators were more supportive of abortion rights than other members of the state assembly. Relationships developed between feminist groups like the National Organization for Women and Democrats and the Christian Right and the GOP during the 1970s, helping to supplant the importance of politicians’ religion on their abortion voting stances. The influence of these interest groups polarized the issue over the next two decades, thereby realigning California legislators’ positions on abortion. The researchers note that the findings show “the importance of personal background to a legislator’s voting can shift over time as issues emerge and evolve, and as positions become linked to political parties.” ​

From Labor Law to Employment Law 

The landmark U.S. labor laws enacted in the 1930s legitimized labor unions and enabled workers to protect their rights through collective bargaining. Since the 1960s, however, labor law has not been updated to meet changing economic conditions. Left to “ossify” and “drift" it has failed to protect workers’ rights on the scale its designers envisioned. In response, workers and their political allies have turned to state-level employment laws and new forms of worker organization and advocacy. IPR political scientist Daniel Galvin conducts new empirical research to trace these changes in labor politics. In Studies in American Political Development, he shows how the ossification of national labor law has shaped the growth and character of state-level employment laws as well as the actions of new worker groups, sometimes called “alt-labor." Constructing and analyzing a new dataset of every state employment law enacted since 1960, he explains the emergence of what he calls the “new politics of workers’ rights” around these laws. Galvin concludes that the persistence of outmoded national labor law has shaped the form, content, and timing of subnational efforts to protect workers over the last half century. The Russell Sage Foundation and the W. K. Kellogg Foundation supported the research.

Performance Measurement and Rewards

How Math Teachers Assess Their Colleagues

How do teachers assess who is a good math teacher? Education professor and IPR associate James Spillane and his co-authors conducted surveys and compiled test-score data to learn how teachers judge their colleagues’ performance in math instruction and whether student test scores figure in their judgments. The researchers also asked if the highest performing teachers, as measured by student math test scores, were more likely to be asked for advice by their colleagues. The researchers found that teachers used direct and indirect knowledge of their colleagues’ abilities, knowledge, and formal training in math instruction to assess others’ performance. Teachers did not consider student test data a good measure, even though the school district studied made special efforts to ensure that such data were available. The researchers also discovered that teachers whose performance was ranked highly by their students’ standardized math test scores were more likely to seek advice from colleagues rather than their colleagues asking them for advice. The findings suggest that school districts can encourage teachers to interact more with their high-performing peers, but teachers’ skepticism about using test scores to gauge teaching expertise means relying on student test data as the only measure of their competence is not enough.

Quantitative Methods for Policy Research

One Replication is Not Enough

Can the results of an experiment be replicated? As IPR education researcher and statistician Larry Hedges and IPR postdoctoral fellow Jacob Schauer explain in the Journal of Educational and Behavioral Statistics, this apparently simple question does not have a simple answer. They point out that replicating a study is not a straightforward matter of repeating the experiment with the same or even larger sample size as the first, comparing the results of the two, and seeing if they are the “same.” Hedges and Schauer ask whether two studies—the original study and a single replication study—can ever be enough to demonstrate conclusively that a result has or has not been replicated. They uncover that the statistical uncertainty in the comparison between two studies is greater than the uncertainty in each study considered separately. Therefore, a single replication study does not provide solid statistical conclusions. Instead, the authors conclude, researchers need to concentrate on the design of replication studies, notably the ensemble of studies required for replicability.

Child, Adolescent, and Family Studies

Rethinking the Value of Unpaid Care Work

In 2015, the United Nations General Assembly began measuring the time people spend on unpaid care work—often a burden carried by women and girls—and its contribution to the well-being of humanity. IPR anthropologist Sera Young looks at the complex and varied experiences of those doing unpaid care work in a recent study. Young and her colleagues conducted research over two months in four villages in rural Tanzania to consider how women think about unpaid care work. Women involved in the study were asked to take photographs of things that brought them joy and sorrow when doing care work and farm work. Young finds that while aspects of farming and childcare can take a physical toll on participants, the women in the study also experienced joy, satisfaction, and fulfilment from the ability to prepare food for their families. The researchers argue that the value of unpaid care work should not only be about quantifying the time people spend on it or its monetary value, but values such as love, empathy, and compassion that are exchanged through caregiving should be considered. Their findings suggest that women in Tanzania subvert cultural norms that say women are primarily responsible for food security and the well-being of their families and “redeploy them in everyday practice to exercise their agency and affirm their identities.” They suggest that the “burden” of unpaid care work may need to be calibrated to account for diverse cultural and geographical contexts.

Poverty, Race, and Inequality 

Criminal Fees and Fines Increase Inequality

In a new study, part of a large research project investigating the origins and effects of monetary sanctions in eight states, sociologist and African American studies researcher and IPR associate Mary Pattillo analyzed current Illinois statutes that mandate fines, fees, restitution, and other legal costs imposed on people convicted of crimes. Pattillo and her colleague Brittany Friedman of Rutgers University argue that these statutes reflect our society’s ideologies about crime and offenders, notably strong emphases on personal responsibility and extended and lengthy punishment. The researchers discovered that Illinois defendants’ payments—which might amount to thousands of dollars—go to dozens of state and county agencies as well as to specific funds for causes such as sexual assault services, prescription disposal, and trauma treatment. The great majority of defendants are in poverty, but courts do not have adequate methods to determine and waive sanctions against impoverished people. Instead, unpaid fines and fees accrue interest and penalties, sending defendants deeper into debt and contributing to inequality. A 2018 Illinois law corrects some of these issues for fees, not fines or restitution, but its effects are still unfolding.




Published: June 3, 2019.