Members of the NBER's Education Program met place in Cambridge on November 16-17. Program Director Caroline Hoxby of Stanford University organized the meeting. These researchers' papers were presented and discussed:
Nolan G. Pope, the University of Maryland, and Nathan M. Petek, Federal Trade Commission
The Multidimensional Impact of Teachers on Students
For decades, policymakers and researchers have used value-added models that rely solely on student test scores to measure teacher quality. However, since teaching ability is multidimensional, test-score value-added measures of teacher quality may not fully capture the impact of teachers on students. Pope and Petek use test-score and non-test-score measures of student achievement and behavior from over a million students in the Los Angeles Unified School District to estimate multiple dimensions of teacher quality. They find that test-score and nontest-score measures of teacher quality are only weakly correlated, and that both measures of teacher quality affect students' performance in high school. A teacher-removal policy simulation that uses both dimensions of teacher quality improves most long-term student outcomes by over 50 percent compared to a policy that uses test scores alone. Pope and Petek's results also show that the long-term effects of teachers in later grades are larger than in earlier grades and that performance in core elementary school subjects matters more for long-term outcomes than other subjects.
Jason B. Cook, the University of Pittsburgh
Segregation, Student Achievement, and Postsecondary Attainment: Evidence from the Introduction of Race-Blind Magnet School Lotteries
Cook studies the effect of racial segregation on academic achievement, college preparation, and postsecondary attainment in a large, urban school district. To achieve racial balance in its oversubscribed magnet schools, this district conducted separate admissions lotteries for black and non-black students. Because the student body was predominantly black, administrators set aside disproportionately more seats for the non-black lottery. In 2003, the federal Office of Civil Rights forced this district to instead use a race-blind lottery procedure that dramatically increased racial segregation for incoming magnet school cohorts. In an instrumental variables framework that exploits both randomized lottery offers and this unanticipated shock to racial makeup, Cook tests whether student racial composition is a meaningful input in the education production function. As a baseline, Cook uses admissions lotteries to estimate the effect of enrolling in a magnet middle school on student outcomes. In general, enrollment returns are comparable between magnet and traditional schools, but Cook estimates heterogeneous magnet school effects across student subgroups. Education production is sensitive to school racial composition in that segregation has a deleterious impact on student outcomes. Cook finds that increasing the share of black peers in a cohort decreases student achievement in math, science, and writing for black students with losses primarily driven by high-aptitude black students. Further, racial segregation erodes high school graduation rates and also decreases college attendance by reducing enrollment at 2-year institutions among female black students. These findings suggest that policies aimed at achieving racial balance in schools will likely increase aggregate educational achievement.
Anjali Adukia, the University of Chicago; Sam E. Asher, The World Bank; and Paul Novosad, Dartmouth College
Educational Investment Responses to Economic Opportunity: Evidence from Indian Road Construction
The rural poor in developing countries, once economically isolated, are increasingly being connected to regional markets. Whether these new connections crowd out or encourage educational investment is a central question. Adukia, Asher, and Novosad examine the impacts on educational choices of 115,000 new roads built under India's flagship road construction program. They find that children stay in school longer and perform better on standardized exams. Treatment heterogeneity supports the predictions of a standard human capital investment model: enrollment increases are largest where nearby labor markets offer the highest returns to education and lowest where they imply high opportunity costs of schooling.
Luis Armona, Stanford University; Rajashri Chakrabarti, Federal Reserve Bank of New York; and Michael Lovenheim, Cornell University and NBER
How Does For-Profit College Attendance Affect Student Loans, Defaults and Earnings?
For-profit providers are becoming an increasingly important fixture of US higher education markets. Students who attend for-profit institutions take on more educational debt, have worse labor market outcomes, and are more likely to default than students attending similarly-selective public schools. Because for- profits tend to serve students from more disadvantaged backgrounds, it is important to isolate the causal effect of for-profit enrollment on educational and labor market outcomes. Armona, Chakrabarti, and Lovenheim approach this problem using a novel instrument combined with more comprehensive data on student outcomes than has been employed in prior research. Their instrument leverages the interaction between increases in the demand for college when labor demand declines and the local supply of for-profit schools. The researchers compare enrollment and postsecondary outcome changes across areas that experience similar labor demand shocks but that have different latent supply of for-profit institutions. The first-stage estimates show that students are much more likely to enroll in a for-profit institution for a given labor demand change when there is a higher supply of such schools in the base period. Second-stage estimates vary somewhat across two-year and four-year schools. Among four-year students, for-profit enrollment leads to more loans, higher loan amounts, an increased likelihood of borrowing, an increased risk of default and worse labor market outcomes. Two-year for-profit students also take out more loans, have higher default rates and lower earnings. But, they are more likely to graduate and to earn over $25,000 per year (the median earnings of high school graduates). Finally, Armona, Chakrabarti, and Lovenheim show that negative local labor demand shocks induce for-profit entry and that this effect is larger in areas that have a higher latent supply of for-profit institutions. Our results point to low returns to for-profit enrollment that have important implications for public investments in higher education as well as how students make postsecondary choices.
Justine S. Hastings, Brown University and NBER; Christopher Neilson, Princeton University and NBER; and Seth D. Zimmerman, the University of Chicago and NBER
The Effects of Earnings Disclosure on College Enrollment Decisions (NBER Working Paper No. 21300)
Hastings, Neilson, and Zimmerman use a large-scale survey and field experiment to evaluate a policy that provided information about earnings and costs to college applicants in Chile. The intervention was administered by the Chilean government and reached 30% of student loan applicants. Students overestimate post-graduation earnings outcomes at low-earning college degree programs but have reasonably accurate beliefs about tuition. Disclosure of earnings outcomes for past graduates reduces demand for degrees in the bottom tercile of the expected labor market return distribution by 3.3%. Effects are concentrated among low-SES and low-scoring students. Effect size is limited by strong preferences for non-earnings degree attributes. This paper was previously titled "Student Loans, College Choice and Information on the Returns to Higher Education."
Hugh Macartney, Duke University and NBER, and John D. Singleton, Duke University
School Boards and Student Segregation (NBER Working Paper No. 23619)
Macartney and Singleton provide the first causal evidence about how elected local school boards affect student segregation across schools. The key identification challenge is that the composition of a school board is potentially correlated with unobserved determinants of school segregation, such as the pattern of household sorting and the degree to which boards are geographically constrained in defining zones of attendance. Macartney and Singleton overcome this issue using a regression discontinuity design at the electoral contest level, exploiting quasi-random variation from narrowly-decided elections. Such an approach is made possible by a unique dataset, which combines matched information about North Carolina school board candidates (including vote shares and political affiliation) with time-varying district-level racial and economic segregation outcomes. Focusing on the political composition of school board members, two-stage least squares estimates reveal that (relative to their non-Democrat counterparts) Democrat board members decrease racial segregation across schools. These estimates significantly differ from their ordinary least squares counterparts, indicating that the latter are biased upward (understating the effects). The researcher's findings suggest that school boards realize such reductions in segregation by shifting attendance zones, a novel measure of which they construct without the need for exact geocoded boundaries. While the effect of adjusting boundaries does not appear to be offset by within-district neighborhood re-sorting in the short run, Macartney and Singleton uncover causal evidence of "white flight" out of public schools in districts in which boards have acted to reduce segregation.
Michael Gilraine, New York University
School Accountability and the Dynamics of Human Capital Formation
Gilraine sets out a new approach that allows dynamic interactions among school inputs to be credibly identified for the first time. The approach exploits a feature of a major federal accountability scheme whereby schools are effectively held accountable only if there are forty or more students in given demographic groups. Year-to-year treatment variation associated with this discontinuity provides the period-by-period randomization necessary to identify dynamic interactions among school inputs. Using detailed administrative data from North Carolina, Gilraine finds evidence of dynamic input complementarities: accountability next period leads to a 0.18 test score increase among those receiving treatment in the prior period relative to those who did not. Gilraine then shows how these estimates can be rationalized by a theoretical model as the relative benefit of investment in each period, identifying dynamic input complementarity parameters in the technology. With estimates of the dynamic technology in hand, Gilraine then considers the efficacy of alternative accountability schemes: conditioning on initial rather than prior test scores can both increase average achievement and reduce the pervasive test score gaps that plague public education today.
William N. Evans, University of Notre Dame and NBER; Melissa Schettini Kearney, the University of Maryland and NBER; and Brendan C. Perry and James X. Sullivan, the University of Notre Dame
Increasing Community College Completion Rates among Low-Income Students:
Evidence from a Randomized Controlled Trial Evaluation of a Case Management Intervention
Community colleges are an important part of the higher education landscape in the United States, but completion rates are extremely low, especially among low-income students. Much of the existing policy and research attention to this issue has focused on addressing academic and financial challenges. However, there is ample reason to think that non-academic obstacles might be key drivers of dropout rates for students living with the burden of poverty. This study examines the impact of a comprehensive case management intervention that is designed specifically to help low-income students overcome the multitude of barriers to college completion. Evans, Kearney, Perry, and Sullivan evaluate the impact of this intervention through a randomized controlled trial evaluation (RCT) conducted between 2013 and 2016 in Fort Worth, Texas. Eligible students were randomly assigned to a treatment group that was offered comprehensive case management, including emergency financial assistance (EFA), a separate treatment group offered only EFA, or a control group. Data from school administrative records indicate that the comprehensive case management program significantly increases persistence and degree completion, especially for women. Estimates for the full sample are imprecise, but the estimates for women imply that the case management intervention tripled associate degree receipt (31 percentage point increase). Evans, Kearney, Perry, and Sullivan find no difference in outcomes between the EFA-only treatment arm and the control group. A back-of-the-envelope calculation using average earnings gains associated with community college completion implies that program benefits exceed program costs ($5,640 per student for three year program) after only 4.25 years in the workforce post schooling.
Elizabeth Setren, MIT
Special Education and English Language Learner Students in Boston Charter Schools: Impact and Classification
The question of whether and how well charter schools serve special education and English Language Learners remains one of most controversial in the charter school debate. Setren uses admissions lotteries to estimate the effects of Boston's charter school enrollment on student achievement and classification for special needs students. Charter attendance boosts achievement similarly for special needs and non-special needs students. Charters also increase the likelihood that special needs students meet high school graduation requirements and earn a state merit scholarship. Even the most disadvantaged special needs students benefit from charter attendance. Charter schools reduce the likelihood of special needs classifications and move special education students into more inclusive classrooms at a substantially higher rate than do traditional public schools. Differences in charter classification practices are largely unrelated to charter gains, suggesting that special needs classification is not essential for students with special needs to make progress.
Tahir Andrabi, Pomona College; Jishnu Das, The World Bank; Asim Khwaja, Harvard University and NBER; Selcuk Ozyurt, Sabanci University; and Niharika Singh, Harvard University
Upping the Ante: The Equilibrium Effects of Unconditional Grants to Private Schools
Quantifying the impact of market failures that prevent individuals and schools from reaching their desired educational goals is central to our understanding of the sector. Using an experimental design, Andrabi, Das, Khwaja, Ozyurt, and Singh examine how alleviating one such market failure -- access to finance -- affects school profitability, enrollment and test scores. The researchers randomly assigned 855 private schools across 266 villages in rural Pakistan to one of two types of financial treatments: (i) 'High Intensity', where all private schools in the village received an unconditional grant of $500 each and (ii) 'Low' intensity where one private schools is randomly chosen to receive the grant. In the low-intensity treatment, revenues increased substantially due to higher enrollment and investments in physical infrastructure, but there was no increase in test scores or fees. In the high-intensity treatment, revenues increased both due to greater enrollment and increased fees that accompanied higher test scores. These schools invested both in physical infrastructure and increases teacher wages. The difference in responses and outcomes follows naturally from an understanding of the underlying market structure. In an oligopolistic setting with capacity constraints and vertically differentiated firms, when financing is made available to only one school, capacity constraints among untreated schools allow treated firms to expand capacity without triggering price competition. When all schools receive financing, expanding capacity in all schools leads to severe price competition, thereby increasing the incentives for quality enhancements. While the returns exceeded market interest rates in both cases, private returns are higher when only a single school receives financing. Andrabi, Das, Khwaja, Ozyurt, and Singh's results are consistent with a greater social impact when all schools receive financing -- the wider set of market participants 'crowds-in' higher quality provision -- and underscore the importance and appropriate design of public subsidies to the educational sector.
Matthew S. Davis, the University of Pennsylvania, and Fernando Ferreira, the University of Pennsylvania and NBER
Housing Disease and Public School Finances
Housing disease is a spillover from housing markets: prices grow during a housing boom leading to shifts in revenues that school administrators have incentives to spend. Davis and Ferreira test if housing disease contributed to the dramatic rise in public education spending in the United States during the 1990s and 2000s. First they construct a novel data set containing the universe of housing transactions for a large sample of school districts since 1993. The researchers then use the timelines of school district housing booms to disentangle the effects of housing disease from reverse causality and changes in household composition. Davis and Ferreira estimate housing price elasticities of perpupil expenditures of 0.16-0.20, which accounts for approximately half of the rise in public school spending. School districts did not boost administrative costs with those additional funds; instead, they primarily increased spending on instruction and capital projects, suggesting that the cost increase was accompanied by improvements in the quality of school inputs.
Lina M. Cardona, Central Bank of Colombia, and Katja Kaufmann, Mannheim University
Gender Peer Effects, Non-Cognitive Skills and Marriage Market Outcomes: Evidence from Single-Sex Schools in the UK
Cardona and Kaufmann analyze the long-run effects of single-sex schooling on individuals marriage and family outcomes. First, they show that individuals positively select into single-sex schools, i.e. individuals have (ex-ante) characteristics (such as higher cognitive and non-cognitive skills, better health, more likely catholic, more highly educated parents and higher family income) which are positively correlated with marriage (negatively with divorce). Despite positive selection, Cardona and Kaufmann find that single-sex education negatively affects men's likelihood to ever having been married by their mid-forties and increases the likelihood of separation/divorce and they show that the estimated coefficients are likely to be lower bounds (in absolute value) of the true effects. For women on the other hand they do not find any effects. In terms of mechanisms, Cardona and Kaufmann show that single-sex schooling does not affect individuals' preferences/aspirations for marriage suggesting negative welfare implications since men who attended single-sex schools are less likely to reach those goals. Instead, likely channels are fewer (romantic) interactions with the opposite gender during teenage age (even outside of school) and effects of single-sex education on boys' non-cognitive skills (such as becoming more cautious and less aggressive) which negatively affect their marital chances. Lastly, Cardona and Kaufmann find that the likelihood of having a child (and the number of children) is unchanged, while the likelihood of a (stable) marriage (conditional on having a child) is reduced with potentially important negative consequences for those children. Interestingly, and consistent with the findings, parents are less likely to send their sons to single-sex schools if they only have boys (and therefore lack the compensating effect of a sister).