Findings

Knowledge is Power

Kevin Lewis

December 09, 2009

Does education reduce the probability of being overweight?

Dinand Webbink, Nicholas Martin & Peter Visscher
Journal of Health Economics, forthcoming

Abstract:
The prevalence of overweight and obesity is growing rapidly in many countries. Education policies might be important for reducing this increase. This paper analyses the causal effect of education on the probability of being overweight by using longitudinal data of Australian identical twins. The data include self-reported and clinical measures of body size. Our cross-sectional estimates confirm the well-known negative association between education and the probability of being overweight. For men we find that education also reduces the probability of being overweight within pairs of identical twins. The estimated effect of education on overweight status increases with age. Remarkably, for women we find no negative effect of education on body size when fixed family effects are taken into account. Identical twin sisters that differ in educational attainment do not systematically differ in body size. Peer effects within pairs of identical twin sisters might play a role.

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Short-run Effects of Parental Job Loss on Children's Academic Achievement

Ann Huff Stevens & Jessamyn Schaller
NBER Working Paper, November 2009

Abstract:
We study the relationship between parental job loss and children's academic achievement using data on job loss and grade retention from the 1996, 2001, and 2004 panels of the Survey of Income and Program Participation. We find that a parental job loss increases the probability of children's grade retention by 0.8 percentage points, or around 15 percent. After conditioning on child fixed effects, there is no evidence of significantly increased grade retention prior to the job loss, suggesting a causal link between the parental employment shock and children's academic difficulties. These effects are concentrated among children whose parents have a high school education or less.

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Religion and verbal ability

Darren Sherkat
Social Science Research, January 2010, Pages 2-13

Abstract:
Religion has a powerful influence on learning and development, and this provides an important cultural foundation for stratification processes. Findings from prior studies of the connection between religion and educational attainment are mixed, but most studies point to negative effects of sectarian Protestant affiliation and fundamentalist beliefs in the inerrancy of sacred texts on educational attainment, aspirations, occupational attainment, and wealth. Verbal ability provides an important potential mechanism through with conservative religion anchors stratification outcomes. I examine the impact of religious affiliation, religious participation, and beliefs in the inerrancy of the Bible on verbal ability. Using data from the 1984-2006 General Social Surveys, I find that both inerrantist beliefs and sectarian affiliations have substantial negative effects on verbal ability. Religious participation has a modest positive effect on verbal ability, but its influence is mostly confined to sectarian Protestants and biblical inerrantists. Importantly, the positive effect of age on verbal ability is substantially weaker among sectarians and biblical inerrantists, suggesting that their closed social networks hinder learning throughout the lifecourse.

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High School Classmates and College Success

Jason Fletcher & Marta Tienda
Sociology of Education, October 2009, Pages 287-314

Abstract:
This article uses administrative data from the University of Texas at Austin to examine whether the number of classmates from the same high school at college entry influences college achievement, measured by grade point average (GPA) and persistence. For each freshman cohort from 1993 through 2003, the authors calculated the number and ethnic makeup of college freshmen from each Texas high school. Empirical specifications included high school fixed effects to control for unobservable differences across schools that influence both college enrollment behavior and academic performance. Using an instrumental variables-fixed-effects estimation strategy, they also evaluated whether "marginal" increases in the number of high school classmates influence college grades. The results show that students who arrive on campus with a larger number of high school classmates outperform their counterparts from smaller high school cohorts. The average effects of larger high school cohorts on college achievement are small, but a marginal increase in the number of same-race classmates raises the GPA by 0.1 point. The results provide suggestive evidence that minority academic benefits from larger high school cohorts are greater for minority compared with white students.

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The Impact of No Child Left Behind on Student Achievement

Thomas Dee & Brian Jacob
NBER Working Paper, November 2009

Abstract:
The No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act compelled states to design school-accountability systems based on annual student assessments. The effect of this Federal legislation on the distribution of student achievement is a highly controversial but centrally important question. This study presents evidence on whether NCLB has influenced student achievement based on an analysis of state-level panel data on student test scores from the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP). The impact of NCLB is identified using a comparative interrupted time series analysis that relies on comparisons of the test-score changes across states that already had school-accountability policies in place prior to NCLB and those that did not. Our results indicate that NCLB generated statistically significant increases in the average math performance of 4th graders (effect size = 0.22 by 2007) as well as improvements at the lower and top percentiles. There is also evidence of improvements in 8th grade math achievement, particularly among traditionally low-achieving groups and at the lower percentiles. However, we find no evidence that NCLB increased reading achievement in either 4th or 8th grade.

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The Labor of Division: Returns to Compulsory Math Coursework

Joshua Goodman
Harvard Working Paper, November 2009

Abstract:
Labor economists know that a year of schooling raises earnings but have little evidence on the impact of specific courses completed. I identify the impact of math coursework on earnings using the differential timing of state-level increases in high school graduation requirements as a source of exogenous variation. The increased requirements induced large increases in both the completed math coursework and earnings of blacks, particularly black males. Two-sample instrumental variable estimates suggest that each additional year of math raised blacks' earnings by 5-9%, accounting for a large fraction of the value of a year of schooling. Closer analysis suggests that much of this effect comes from black students who attend non-white schools and who will not attend college. The earnings impact of additional math coursework is robust to changes in empirical specification, is not driven by selection into the labor force, and persists when earnings are conditioned on educational attainment. The reforms close one fifth of the earnings gap between black and white males. Estimates for whites are similar to those of blacks but are much noisier due to the reforms' weaker impact on white students' coursework. These results suggest that math coursework is an important determinant of the labor market return to schooling, that simple minimum requirements largely benefit low-skilled students, and that more demanding requirements might be necessary to improve the outcomes of high-skilled students.

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Land Endowments, Child Labor, and the Rise of Public Schooling: Evidence from the U.S. South

Jeffrey Greenbaum
University of California Working Paper, September 2009

Abstract:
Relative to their white peers in 1910, black children born in the U.S. South attended inferior schools and received three fewer years of education. However, these racial differences in schooling narrowed significantly within the next few decades. This paper proposes a new model of educational resource allocation in order to explain the narrowing of the black-white gap in school quality. The model reveals that the root cause of the rise in black public schooling in the South was the decline of child labor in cotton agriculture. Using the model, I argue that in 1910, black-white inequality in childhood education was highest in regions of intensive cotton farming because (1) cotton production was uniquely child-labor intensive and (2) because, relative to their white peers, black children were more frequently employed in manual labor. I combine a newly-assembled county-level database on public schooling with data on cotton production to show that racial differences in public school quality were largest in cotton-growing regions of the South. Furthermore, I show that the decline in cotton production and the mechanization of cotton production, along with the passing of federal legislation discouraging the use of child labor, significantly reduced racial differences in both school attendance and school quality.

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An experimental study comparing English-only and Transitional Bilingual Education on Spanish-speaking preschoolers' early literacy development

Lillian Durán, Cary Roseth & Patricia Hoffman
Early Childhood Research Quarterly, forthcoming

Abstract:
A longitudinal, experimental-control design was used to test the hypothesis that native language instruction enhances English language learner's (ELL's) native language and literacy development without significant cost to English development. In this study, 31 Spanish-speaking preschoolers (aged 38-48 months) were randomly assigned to two Head Start classrooms differing only in the language of instruction (English and Spanish). As predicted, results showed that Spanish language instruction resulted in significantly higher growth on both Spanish oral vocabulary and letter-word identification measures. There were no significant differences between classrooms on these same measures in English. Results extend previous work by showing that Transitional Bilingual Education may be a viable alternative to traditional English-only models. Implications for theory, future research, and early childhood practice are discussed.

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Why Have College Completion Rates Declined? An Analysis of Changing Student Preparation and Collegiate Resources

John Bound, Michael Lovenheim & Sarah Turner
NBER Working Paper, December 2009

Abstract:
Partly as a consequence of the substantial increase in the college wage premium since 1980, a much higher fraction of high school graduates enter college today than they did a quarter century ago. However, the rise in the fraction of high school graduates attending college has not been met by a proportional increase in the fraction who finish. Comparing two cohorts from the high school classes of 1972 and 1992, we show eight-year college completion rates declined nationally, and this decline is most pronounced amongst men beginning college at less-selective public 4-year schools and amongst students starting at community colleges. We decompose the observed changes in completion rates into the component due to changes in the preparedness of entering students and the component due to collegiate characteristics, including type of institution and resources per student. We find that, while both factors play a role, it is the collegiate characteristics that are more important. A central contribution of this analysis is to show the importance of the supply-side of the higher education in explaining changes in college completion.

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Optimising learning using flashcards: Spacing is more effective than cramming

Nate Kornell
Applied Cognitive Psychology, November 2009, Pages 1297-1317

Abstract:
The spacing effect - that is, the benefit of spacing learning events apart rather than massing them together - has been demonstrated in hundreds of experiments, but is not well known to educators or learners. I investigated the spacing effect in the realistic context of flashcard use. Learners often divide flashcards into relatively small stacks, but compared to a large stack, small stacks decrease the spacing between study trials. In three experiments, participants used a web-based study programme to learn GRE-type word pairs. Studying one large stack of flashcards (i.e. spacing) was more effective than studying four smaller stacks of flashcards separately (i.e. massing). Spacing was also more effective than cramming - that is, massing study on the last day before the test. Across experiments, spacing was more effective than massing for 90% of the participants, yet after the first study session, 72% of the participants believed that massing had been more effective than spacing.

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Accountability and Flexibility in Public Schools: Evidence from Boston's Charters and Pilots

Atila Abdulkadiroglu, Joshua Angrist, Susan Dynarski, Thomas Kane & Parag Pathak
NBER Working Paper, November 2009

Abstract:
Charter schools are publicly funded but operate outside the regulatory framework and collective bargaining agreements characteristic of traditional public schools. In return for this freedom, charter schools are subject to heightened accountability. This paper estimates the impact of charter school attendance on student achievement using data from Boston, where charter schools enroll a growing share of students. We also evaluate an alternative to the charter model, Boston's pilot schools. These schools have some of the independence of charter schools, but operate within the school district, face little risk of closure, and are covered by many of same collective bargaining provisions as traditional public schools. Estimates using student assignment lotteries show large and significant test score gains for charter lottery winners in middle and high school. In contrast, lottery-based estimates for pilot schools are small and mostly insignificant. The large positive lottery-based estimates for charter schools are similar to estimates constructed using statistical controls in the same sample, but larger than those using statistical controls in a wider sample of schools. The latter are still substantial, however. The estimates for pilot schools are smaller and more variable than those for charters, with some significant negative effects.

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Spillover effects of inclusion of classmates with emotional problems on test scores in early elementary school

Jason Fletcher
Journal of Policy Analysis and Management, Winter 2010, Pages 69-83

Abstract:
Over the last decade, the federal government has directed schools to provide educational instruction for students with special needs in general education settings to the extent possible. While there is mixed evidence on the effects of these inclusion policies on the students with special needs, research examining potential spillovers of inclusion on non-disabled classmates has been scarce. There is particularly little research on the effects of inclusion policies on classmates during early elementary grades. This paper begins to fill in this gap by using a nationally representative, longitudinal survey of kindergartners. Cross-sectional results suggest that having a classmate with an emotional problem decreases reading and math scores at the end of kindergarten and first grade by over 10 percent of a standard deviation, which is one-third to one-half of the minority test score gap. To control for nonrandom sorting of students to schools, as well as students to classrooms, this paper uses school-level and then student-level fixed effects. Results from the preferred empirical models suggest a decrease of approximately 5 percent of a standard deviation in math and reading scores, though the reading results are less robust. The results also indicate moderate racial and gender differences in the effects.

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Discovering One's Talent: Learning from Academic Specialization

Ofer Malamud
NBER Working Paper, November 2009

Abstract:
In addition to providing useful skills, education may also yield valuable information about one's tastes and talents. This paper exploits an exogenous difference in the timing of academic specialization within the British system of higher education to test whether education provides such information. I develop a model in which individuals, by taking courses in different fields of study, accumulate field-specific skills and receive noisy signals of match quality to these fields. Distinguishing between educational regimes with early and late specialization, I derive comparative static predictions about the likelihood of switching to an occupation that is unrelated to one's field of study. If higher education serves mainly to provide specific skills, the model predicts more switching in a regime with late specialization because the cost of switching is lower in terms of foregone skills. Using survey and administrative data on university graduates, I find that individuals from Scotland, where specialization occurs relatively late, are less likely to switch to an unrelated occupation compared to their English counterparts who specialize early. This implies that the benefits to increased match quality are sufficiently large to outweigh the greater loss in skills from specializing early, and thus confirms the important role of higher education in helping students discover their own tastes and talents.


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