Crowdfunding the Front Lines: An Empirical Study of Teacher-Driven School Improvement
47 Pages Posted: 13 Apr 2020 Last revised: 10 Jun 2021
Date Written: March 17, 2020
The brick-and-mortar K--12 education system in the US is notoriously hard to improve. Education technology (EdTech) companies trying to innovate may develop creative solutions, but such innovations seem ill-suited to the systemic, entrenched inefficiencies and inequalities plaguing US public schools. In this paper, we study DonorsChoose, a nonprofit that operates a teacher crowdfunding platform. We ask whether DonorsChoose improves educational outcomes, specifically at low-income schools. Combining DonorsChoose data with data on student test scores in Pennsylvania from 2012--2013 to 2017--2018, we find an increase in the number of DonorsChoose projects funded at a school leads to higher student performance, after controlling for selection biases. For a school with zero funded projects, one funded project---of about $400 in value---translates to between 2 to 9 more students scoring basic and above in all subjects in high school and science and language arts in primary and middle school. We find this effect is driven mostly by low-income schools, indicating funded projects help close the achievement gap. Based on a textual analysis of 20,000 statements from all funded teachers describing how project resources are used, we find two channels of improvement most effective in the lowest income schools. Our study suggests that those in the education sector can harness the wisdom of frontline workers---teachers---to improve effectiveness and equality.
Keywords: front-line worker, crowdfunding, service operations, education operations, non-profit operations, quasi-experiment
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