Education and Children

Education and Children

April 20-21, 2017
Janet Currie of Princeton University; Anna Aizer of Brown University; and Caroline M. Hoxby of Stanford University, Organizers

David N. Figlio, Northwestern University and NBER; Paola Giuliano, the University of California at Los Angeles and NBER; Umut Özek, American Institutes for Research; and Paola Sapienza, Northwestern University and NBER

Long-Term Orientation and Educational Performance (NBER Working Paper No. 22541)

Figlio, Giuliano, Özek, and Sapienza use remarkable population-level administrative education and birth records from Florida to study the role of Long-Term Orientation on the educational attainment of immigrant students living in the U.S. Controlling for the quality of schools and individual characteristics, students from countries with long term oriented attitudes perform better than students from cultures that do not emphasize the importance of delayed gratification. These students perform better in third grade reading and math tests, have larger test score gains over time, have fewer absences and disciplinary incidents, are less likely to repeat grades, and are more likely to graduate from high school in four years. Also, they are more likely to enroll in advanced high school courses, especially in scientific subjects. Parents from long term oriented cultures are more likely to secure better educational opportunities for their children. A larger fraction of immigrants speaking the same language in the school amplifies the effect of Long-Term Orientation on educational performance. The researchers validate these results using a sample of immigrant students living in 37 different countries.

Matthew A. Kraft, Brown University

Teacher Effects on Complex Cognitive Skills and Social-Emotional Competencies

Kraft exploits the random assignment of class rosters in the Measures of Effective Teaching Project to estimate teacher effects on students' performance on cognitively demanding open-ended tasks in math and reading, as well as their growth mindset, grit, and effort in class. He finds large teacher effects across this expanded set of student outcomes, but weak relationships between these effects and multiple measures used in new teacher evaluation systems including effects on state standardized tests. These findings suggest that high-stakes evaluation decisions do not fully consider the degree to which teachers are developing students' complex cognitive skills or social-emotional competencies.

Esther Duflo, MIT and NBER; Pascaline Dupas, Stanford University and NBER; and Michael Kremer, Harvard University and NBER

The Impact of Free Secondary Education: Experimental Evidence from Ghana

In 2008, 682 secondary school scholarships were awarded by lottery among 2,064 Ghanaian students (aged 17 on average) who were admitted to a specific school and track but could not immediately enroll, in most cases due to lack of funds. Duflo, Dupas, and Kremer use follow-up data collected until 2016 to document downstream impacts by age 25. For the whole sample, scholarship winners were 26 percentage points (55%) more likely to complete secondary school, obtained 1.26 more years of secondary education, scored an average of 0.15 standard deviations greater on a reading and math test, and adopted more preventative health behavior. Women who received a scholarship had 0.217 fewer children by age 25. Scholarship winners were also 3 percentage points (30%) more likely to have ever enrolled in tertiary education. Despite the fact that they were 2.5 percentage points more likely to be enrolled in school at the time of the last survey, they were 5.5 percentage points (10%) more likely to have positive earnings and had significantly higher (hyperbolic sine) earnings. For students admitted to vocational tracks (comprising 60% of the sample) scholarships did not increase tertiary education, which simplifies the interpretation of labor market outcomes. In this subsample, scholarships increased the likelihood of earning money by 8.8 percentage points (16%) and increased total earnings by 19%. The estimated financial rate of return to education in this subsample is 13%. For students admitted to academic majors, scholarships increased the chance of having enrolled in tertiary education by 5.3 percentage points on a base of 11 percent. This effect is driven overwhelmingly by women, who nearly double their rate of tertiary enrollment and fully catch up with men. The researchers cannot reject the hypothesis that among those admitted to academic tracks, scholarships did not affect average labor market participation and earnings by age 25, but since more scholarship winners than non-winners were still in school as of 2016, it is too early to definitively assess labor market impacts in this population.

Michael L. Anderson, the University of California at Berkeley and NBER; Justin Gallagher, Case Western Reserve University; and Elizabeth Ramirez Ritchie, the University of California at Berkeley

School Lunch Quality and Academic Performance (NBER Working Paper No. 23218)

Improving the nutritional content of public school meals is a topic of intense policy interest. A main motivation is the health of school children, and, in particular, the rising childhood obesity rate. Medical and nutrition literature has long argued that a healthy diet can have a second important impact: improved cognitive function. In this paper, Anderson, Gallagher, and Ramirez Ritchie test whether offering healthier lunches affects student achievement as measured by test scores. Their sample includes all California (CA) public schools over a five-year period. The researchers estimate difference-in-difference style regressions using variation that takes advantage of frequent lunch vendor contract turnover. Students at schools that contract with a healthy school lunch vendor score higher on CA state achievement tests, with larger test score increases for students who are eligible for reduced price or free school lunches. The researchers do not find any evidence that healthier school lunches lead to a decrease in obesity rates.

Nicola Bianchi, Northwestern University, and Michela Giorcelli, the University of California at Los Angeles

Scientific Education and Innovation: From Technical Diplomas to University STEM Degrees

Bianchi and Giorcelli use a change in enrollment requirements in Italian STEM majors to study the effects of university STEM education on the probability of becoming an inventor. Administrative data on education, occupations, and innovation activities of students who received a STEM degree thanks to the change in enrollment policy suggest that the propensity to innovate decreased among students with high precollegiate achievement, but increased among lower-achieving students. The researchers show how these findings relate to heterogeneous sorting into more and less innovative occupations. In addition to affecting occupational choices, a university STEM education changed the type of innovation produced.

Douglas Almond, Columbia University and NBER, and Yi Cheng, Columbia University

Perinatal Health among 1 Million American-Born Chinese

Natalie Bau, the University of Toronto, and Jishnu Das, the World Bank

The Misallocation of Pay and Productivity in the Public Sector: Evidence from the Labor Market for Teachers

Bau and Das use a unique dataset of both public and private sector primary school teachers and their students to present estimates of (a) teacher value added (TVA) and its correlates in a low income country and (b) the link between TVA and teacher wages. Moving a student from a teacher in the 5th to the 95th percentile of the public school TVA distribution leads to a 0.54 standard deviation increase in test scores, relative to a 0.39-0.55 increase in the United States. Moving a student from the 5th to the 95th percentile in the overall distribution would increase mean test scores by 0.69 standard deviations. Although the first two years of experience, as well as content knowledge, are associated with TVA, all observed teacher characteristics explain no more than 5 percent of the variation in TVA. Finally, there is no correlation between TVA and wages in the public sector (although there is in the private sector), and a policy change that shifted public hiring from permanent to temporary contracts, reducing wages by 35%, had no adverse impact on TVA, either immediately or after 4 years. The study confirms the importance of teachers in low income countries, extends previous experimental results on teacher contracts to a large-scale policy change, and provides striking evidence of significant misallocation between pay and productivity in the public sector.

Daniel M. Hungerman and Kasey Buckles, the University of Notre Dame and NBER, and Steven Lugauer, the University of Notre Dame

Fertility Is a Leading Economic Indicator

Many papers show that aggregate fertility is pro-cyclical. In this paper Hungerman, Buckles, and Lugauer do something else: using data on more than 100 million births and focusing on within-year changes in fertility, they show that for recent U.S. recessions total conceptions begin to fall several quarters prior to economic decline. The fall in conceptions coincides with or even predates the changes in other economic indicators. The researchers argue that the forward-looking, and indeed prescient, nature of conception is frequently overlooked by most studies on fertility.

Barbara Biasi, Stanford University

Unions, Salaries, and The Market for Teachers: Evidence from Wisconsin

A careful study of teachers' labor demand and supply, while extremely relevant for policy, is challenging due to a lack of variation in pay, as teacher salaries are usually set using steps-and-lanes schedules based entirely on seniority and academic credentials. This paper exploits the passage of Act 10 in Wisconsin in 2011, which changed the scope of collective bargaining on teacher salaries, to study the effects of changes in pay on teachers' labor market, and on the composition of the teaching workforce. As a result of this law some districts started to individually negotiate salaries with each teacher, whereas other districts continued setting salaries using seniority-based schedules. Biasi first documents an increase in salary dispersion in individual-salaries districts, and show that it is correlated with teacher value-added. Teachers responded to changes in pay by sorting across districts or by exiting: Biasi finds a 34 percent increase in the quality of teachers moving from salary-schedule to individual-salary districts, and a 17 percent decrease in the quality of teachers exiting individual-salary districts. Building from this reduced-form evidence, Biasi estimates the parameters of teachers' labor supply and demand using a two-sided choice model. Simulating the model on different salary schemes shows that an increase in the quality component of salaries in one district is associated with an improvement in average quality of the teaching workforce, driven by both in-movements of higher-quality teachers and out-movements and exits of lower-quality teachers. An increase in all districts is, however, associated with a smaller improvement, entirely attributable to exits of lower-quality teachers.

Elaine M. Liu, the University of Houston and NBER, and Xuejing Zuo, the University of Houston

Cultural Assimilation, Peer Effects and the Evolution of the Gender Gap in Risk Preferences

This paper investigates the persistence of cultural and gender norms among two ethnic groups. Liu and Zuo elicit risk preferences from elementary and middle school children belonging to Mosuo (a matrilineal society) and Han (a traditionally patriarchal society) cultures. These children attend the same schools and are taught by mostly Han (patriarchal) teachers in rural China. The researchers find that in the lower elementary school grades, Mosuo and Han children exhibit a striking contrast in gender norms — Mosuo girls take more risks during the experiment than Mosuo boys while Han girls are more risk averse than Han boys. However, in the upper grades, Mosuo girls are more risk averse than Mosuo boys, and become more similar to their Han counterparts. Furthermore, the researchers exploit the fact that these Han and Mosuo students attend a boarding middle school and roommates are randomly assigned. Using the random variation in roommates' ethnicity, the researchers find that Mosuo boys who have more non-Mosuo roommates behave more similarly to Han than the ones who have fewer non-Mosuo roommates. The findings suggest that cultural and gender norms are malleable at formative ages.

Rucker Johnson, the University of California at Berkeley and NBER, and C. Kirabo Jackson, Northwestern University and NBER

Reducing Inequality Through Dynamic Complementarity: Evidence from Head Start and Public School Spending

Johnson and Kirabo Jackson explore whether early childhood human-capital investments are complementary to those made later in life. Using the Panel Study of Income Dynamics, the researchers compare the adult outcomes of cohorts who were differentially exposed to policy-induced changes in pre-school (Head Start) spending and school-finance-reform-induced changes in public school spending during childhood, depending on place and year of birth. Difference-in-difference instrumental variables and sibling-difference estimates indicate that, for poor children, increases in Head Start spending and increases in public K12 spending each individually increased educational attainment and earnings, and reduced the likelihood of both poverty and incarceration in adulthood. The benefits of Head Start spending were larger when followed by access to better-funded public K12 schools, and the increases in K12 spending were more efficacious for poor children who were exposed to higher levels of Head Start spending during their preschool years. The findings suggest that early investments in the skills of disadvantaged children that are followed by sustained educational investments over time can effectively break the cycle of poverty.