Head of the Class

Kevin Lewis

October 06, 2009

Gendered Fields: Sports and Advanced Course Taking in High School

Jennifer Pearson, Sarah Crissey & Catherine Riegle-Crumb
Sex Roles, October 2009, Pages 519-535

This study explores the association between sports participation and course taking in high school, specifically comparing subjects with varied gendered legacies-science and foreign language. Analyses of a nationally representative longitudinal sample (N = 5,447) of U.S. adolescents from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health and the linked Adolescent Health and Academic Achievement transcript study show that male and female athletes are more likely than non-athletes to take both advanced foreign language and Physics, largely because of their higher academic orientation. However, the association between sports participation and course taking was strongest for girls' Physics coursework, suggesting that sports may provide girls with a unique opportunity to develop the skills and confidence to persevere in the masculine domain of science.


Grading Exams: 100, 99, 98,...Or A, B, C?

Pradeep Dubey & John Geanakoplos
Yale Working Paper, June 2009

We introduce grading into games of status. Each player chooses effort, pro ducing a stochastic output or score. Utilities depend on the ranking of all the scores. By clustering scores into grades, the ranking is coarsened, and the incen tives to work are changed. We apply games of status to grading exams. Our main conclusion is that if students care primarily about their status (relative rank) in class, they are often best motivated to work not by revealing their exact numerical exam scores (100, 99, ...,1), but instead by clumping them into coarse categories (A,B,C). When student abilities are disparate, the optimal absolute grading scheme is always coarse. Furthermore, it awards fewer A's than there are alpha-quality students, creating small elites. When students are homogeneous, we characterize optimal absolute grading schemes in terms of the stochastic dominance between student performances (when they shirk or work) on subintervals of scores, showing again why coarse grading may be advantageous. In both the disparate case and the homogeneous case, we prove that absolute grading is better than grading on a curve, provided student scores are independent.


Katrina's Children: Evidence on the Structure of Peer Effects from Hurricane Evacuees

Scott Imberman, Adriana Kugler & Bruce Sacerdote
NBER Working Paper, August 2009

In 2005, hurricanes Katrina and Rita forced many children to relocate across the Southeast. While schools quickly enrolled evacuees, receiving families worried about the impact of evacuees on non-evacuee students. Data from Houston and Louisiana show that, on average, the influx of evacuees moderately reduced elementary math test scores in Houston. We reject linear-in-means models of peer effects and find evidence of a highly non-linear but monotonic model — student achievement improves with high ability and worsens with low ability peers. Moreover, exposure to undisciplined evacuees increased native absenteeism and disciplinary problems, supporting a "bad apple" model in behavior.


Inside national service: AmeriCorps' impact on participants

Peter Frumkin, JoAnn Jastrzab, Margaret Vaaler, Adam Greeney, Robert Grimm, Kevin Cramer & Nathan Dietz
Journal of Policy Analysis and Management, Summer 2009, Pages 394-416

This study examines the short- and long-term impact of AmeriCorps participation on members' civic engagement, education, employment, and life skills. The analysis compares changes in the attitudes and behaviors of participants over time to those of individuals not enrolled in AmeriCorps, controlling for interest in national and community service, member and family demographics, and prior civic engagement. Results indicate that participation in AmeriCorps led to positive impacts on members, especially in the area of civic engagement, members' connection to community, knowledge about problems facing their community, and participation in community-based activities. AmeriCorps had some positive impacts on its members' employment-related outcomes. Few statistically significant impacts were found for measures of participants' attitude toward education or educational attainment, or for selected life skills measures. Within a subset of community service programs that incorporate a residential component for members, the study also uncovered a short-term negative impact of participation on members' appreciation for ethnic and cultural diversity, which disappeared over time. The implications of these findings for future research on national service are discussed.


The academic attitudes of American teenagers, 1990-2002: Cohort and gender effects on math achievement

Susan Dumais
Social Science Research, December 2009, Pages 767-780

Using data from the National Education Longitudinal Study of 1988 and the Education Longitudinal Study of 2002, I compare the academic attitudes of high school students from Generation X and the Millennial Generation. I then analyze the effects these attitudes have on mathematics achievement test scores. Compared to the earlier group, students in the later cohort were less likely to indicate academic reasons for attending school and largely perceived their friends as being less engaged academically. Students in both cohorts whose friends held academic values experienced an increase in math scores. The more students in the earlier cohort disagreed that they came to school for academic reasons, the more their math scores decreased; this relationship did not appear for the later cohort. Females in each cohort showed stronger academic attitudes than males; additionally, believing that popularity was important was associated with lower test scores for females, but not males, in the Millennial cohort.


The Motivational Landscape of Early Adolescence in the United States and China: A Longitudinal Investigation

Qian Wang & Eva Pomerantz
Child Development, July/August 2009, Pages 1272-1287

This research examined motivational trajectories during early adolescence in the United States and China. Upon their entry into middle school at 7th grade and every 6 months thereafter until the end of 8th grade, 825 American and Chinese children (mean age = 12.73 years) reported on their motivational beliefs (e.g., mastery orientation) and behavior (e.g., self-regulated learning strategies). The quality of children's motivational beliefs deteriorated over the 7th and 8th grades (e.g., children became less mastery oriented) in both the United States and China. American children also valued academics less, with declines in their motivational behavior as well. Chinese children continued to value academics, sustaining their motivational behavior. In both countries, children's motivational beliefs and behavior predicted their grades over time.


Does Higher Quality Early Child Care Promote Low-Income Children's Math and Reading Achievement in Middle Childhood?

Eric Dearing, Kathleen McCartney & Beck Taylor
Child Development, September/October 2009, Pages 1329-1349

Higher quality child care during infancy and early childhood (6-54 months of age) was examined as a moderator of associations between family economic status and children's (N = 1,364) math and reading achievement in middle childhood (4.5-11 years of age). Low income was less strongly predictive of underachievement for children who had been in higher quality care than for those who had not. Consistent with a cognitive advantage hypothesis, higher quality care appeared to promote achievement indirectly via early school readiness skills. Family characteristics associated with selection into child care also appeared to promote the achievement of low-income children, but the moderating effect of higher quality care per se remained evident when controlling for selection using covariates and propensity scores.


Adolescent depression and educational attainment: Results using sibling fixed effects

Jason Fletcher
Health Economics, forthcoming

This paper contributes to the literature on the relationship between adolescent depression and educational attainment in several ways. First, while cross-sectional data are normally used, this paper uses longitudinal data in order to defend against the potential of reverse causality. Second, this is the first paper in the literature to control for sibling-fixed effects in examining the relationship between adolescent depressive symptoms and human capital accumulation. Importantly, this eliminates omitted factors such as family and neighborhood characteristics common to siblings that affect both depressive symptoms and educational attainments (e.g. neighborhood crime, and family resources). Third, this paper examines the effects of both an indicator and scale of depressive symptoms and finds important associations with these depressive symptoms and human capital accumulation. Though the results cannot be given a causal interpretation, the findings show a negative relationship between depressive symptoms and years of schooling. The relationship appears to be driven primarily through increasing the chances of dropping out but may have small impacts on the likelihood of college attendance (conditional on high school graduation). In particular, preferred estimates suggest that a standard deviation increase in depressive symptoms is associated with a 25-30% increase in the likelihood of dropping out.


Social Interactions and Schooling Decisions

Rafael Lalive & Alejandra Cattaneo
Review of Economics and Statistics, August 2009, Pages 457-477

The aim of this paper is to study whether a child's schooling choices are affected by the schooling choices of other children. Identification is based on a randomized targeted intervention that grants a cash subsidy conditional on school attendance to a subgroup of eligible children within small rural villages in Mexico (PROGRESA). This policy change spills over to ineligible children if social interactions are relevant. Results indicate that the eligible children tend to attend school more frequently, and the ineligible children acquire more schooling when the subsidy is introduced in their local village. Moreover, the overall effect of PROGRESA on eligible children is the sum of a direct effect due to cash transfers and an indirect effect due to changes in peer group schooling. Interestingly, the social interactions effect is almost as important as the direct effect.


The Impact of Background Television on Parent-Child Interaction

Heather Kirkorian, Tiffany Pempek, Lauren Murphy, Marie Schmidt & Daniel Anderson
Child Development, September/October 2009, Pages 1350-1359

This study investigated the hypothesis that background television affects interactions between parents and very young children. Fifty-one 12-, 24-, and 36-month-old children, each accompanied by 1 parent, were observed for 1 hr of free play in a laboratory space resembling a family room. For half of the hour, an adult-directed television program played in the background on a monaural television set. During the other half hour, the television was not on. Both the quantity and quality of parent-child interaction decreased in the presence of background television. These findings suggest one way in which early, chronic exposure to television may have a negative impact on development.


Flow and diffusion of high-stakes test scores

M. Marder & D. Bansal
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, forthcoming

We apply visualization and modeling methods for convective and diffusive flows to public school mathematics test scores from Texas. We obtain plots that show the most likely future and past scores of students, the effects of random processes such as guessing, and the rate at which students appear in and disappear from schools. We show that student outcomes depend strongly upon economic class, and identify the grade levels where flows of different groups diverge most strongly. Changing the effectiveness of instruction in one grade naturally leads to strongly nonlinear effects on student outcomes in subsequent grades.

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