Making America genius again

Kevin Lewis

January 08, 2018

Going Greek: The Organization of Campus Life and Class-Based Graduation Gaps
Laura Hamilton & Simon Cheng
Social Forces, forthcoming


Social scientists have long recognized that college students from lower-income households have lower college completion rates than their more affluent peers who are attending the very same schools. Yet parsing the mechanisms through which relative socioeconomic disadvantage and privilege influence college completion has been difficult. This paper leverages a novel dataset comprising information from the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System, the Education Trust Pell Partnership, and the U.S. News and World Report to investigate the potential influence of Greek letter societies (i.e., fraternities and sororities) on gaps in completion rates between Pell Grant recipients and non-Pell, non-Stafford loan recipients. We find that at selective four-year schools, which tend to enroll students from a wide variety of class backgrounds, the presence of Greek letter societies is associated with greater class-based graduation gaps. The association is evident, but less significant, at the nation's most selective universities. Results suggest that both stratification researchers and higher education administrators should seriously consider the extra-academic features of college life as important mediators of social inequality.

Do High School Sports Build or Reveal Character?
Michael Ransom & Tyler Ransom
University of Oklahoma Working Paper, October 2017


We examine the extent to which participation in high school athletics has beneficial effects on future education, labor market, and health outcomes. Due to the absence of plausible instruments in observational data, we use recently developed methods that relate selection on observables with selection on unobservables to estimate bounds on the causal effect of athletics participation. We analyze these effects in the US separately for men and women using three different nationally representative longitudinal data sets that each link high school athletics participation with later-life outcomes. We do not find consistent evidence of individual benefits reported in many previous studies - once we have accounted for selection, high school athletes are no more likely to attend college, earn higher wages, or participate in the labor force. However, we do find that men (but not women) who participated in high school athletics are more likely to exercise regularly as adults. Nevertheless, athletes are no less likely to be obese.

Skills, Job Tasks, and Productivity in Teaching: Evidence from a Randomized Trial of Instruction Practices
Eric Taylor
Journal of Labor Economics, forthcoming


I study how teachers' assigned job tasks - the basic practices they are asked to use in the classroom - affect the returns to math skills in teacher productivity. The results demonstrate the importance of distinguishing between workers' skills and workers' job tasks. I examine a randomized trial of different approaches to teaching math, each approach codified in a set of day-to-day tasks. Teachers were tested to measure their math skills. Teacher productivity - measured with student test scores - is increasing in math skills when teachers use conventional "direct instruction" practices: explaining and modeling math rules and procedures. The relationship is weaker, perhaps negative, for newer "student-led" instruction tasks.

Down but Not Out: The National Education Association in Federal Politics
Bradley Marianno
Educational Policy, forthcoming


This research provides new evidence on the political activity and policy-setting agenda of the largest national teachers' union during a time of political change. Using a longitudinal dataset comprised of election outcomes and campaign contributions for all candidates for federal office and the National Education Association's (NEA) official federal policy positions, I find that NEA Democrat allies have decreased precipitously over time with the election of a Republican majority in Congress. Nonetheless, the NEA still experiences considerable success in congressional roll call votes partly because of the election of a growing contingent of Republican allies in the House and Senate.

College completion predicts lower depression but higher metabolic syndrome among disadvantaged minorities in young adulthood
Lauren Gaydosh et al.
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 2 January 2018, Pages 109-114


Individuals with higher educational attainment live healthier and longer lives. However, not everyone benefits equally from higher education. In particular, the black-white gap in life expectancy is greater at higher levels of educational attainment. Furthermore, recent research suggests that disadvantaged African Americans in the rural Southeast who attend college have worse physical health than their similarly disadvantaged peers who do not attend college. The extent to which this pattern generalizes to a nationally representative, mixed-race sample is unknown. Using data from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent to Adult Health, we test whether the health benefits associated with college completion vary by level of childhood disadvantage for depression and metabolic syndrome in young adulthood, across race/ethnicity. We find uniform lower depression associated with college completion regardless of childhood disadvantage, and across non-Hispanic white, non-Hispanic black, and Hispanic young adults. College completion is associated with lower metabolic syndrome for whites across all levels of childhood disadvantage. In contrast, college completion is associated with higher metabolic syndrome among black and Hispanic young adults from disadvantaged childhood environments. Our findings suggest that, for minorities from disadvantaged backgrounds, finishing college pays substantial dividends for mental health but simultaneously exacts costs with regard to physical health. This pattern contrasts starkly with whites and minorities from more privileged backgrounds, for whom college completion is associated with benefits to both mental and physical health. These results suggest that racial disparities in health may persist in part because the health of upwardly mobile minorities is compromised in young adulthood.

Are you hiring Johnny Football or Johnny Doe? Uncertain labour quality and the measurement of monopsony in college football
Matthew Philip Makofske
Applied Economics, forthcoming


I assess monopsony in the college football labour market as it relates to both typical and elite performers, while also accounting for the uncertain performance quality of prospective players who are in this labour market. Existing studies suggest that the marginal revenue product (MRP) of elite collegiate players later drafted into the National Football League (NFL), significantly exceeds their compensation. These comparisons overstate monopsony rents because schools don't know ex ante which prospects will become these elite performers. Using financial data spanning 2004-2011 from 114 major schools, I estimate the MRP of players sorted into three ex post quality tiers, and find that while eventual NFL draftees generate revenue that significantly exceeds their compensation, a majority of scholarship players do not. Then, using talent ratings of 6,604 prospective players recruited from 2002-2008, I estimate the probability that prospects will reach each ex post quality tier given their ex ante ratings. MRP estimates are adjusted by these conditional probability estimates to reflect the expected MRP of prospects, which allows more appropriate assessment of monopsony rents. I find that schools possess substantially less monopsony power than unadjusted MRP estimates suggest.

The Returns to College Persistence for Marginal Students: Regression Discontinuity Evidence from University Dismissal Policies
Ben Ost, Weixiang Pan & Douglas Webber
Journal of Labor Economics, forthcoming


We estimate the returns to college using administrative data on both college enrollment and earnings. Utilizing the fact that colleges dismiss low-performing students based on exact GPA cutoffs, we use a regression discontinuity design to estimate the earnings impacts of college. Dismissal leads to a short-run increase in earnings and tuition savings, but the future fall in earnings is sufficiently large that 8 years after dismissal, persisting students have already recouped their up-front investment with an internal rate of return of 4.1%. We provide a variety of evidence that manipulation of the running variable does not drive our results.

Increasing Community College Completion Rates among Low-Income Students: Evidence from a Randomized Controlled Trial Evaluation of a Case Management Intervention
William Evans et al.
NBER Working Paper, December 2017


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. We 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).We 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.

Do Economists Swing for the Fences after Tenure?
Jonathan Brogaard, Joseph Engelberg & Edward Dickersin Van Wesep
Journal of Economic Perspectives, forthcoming


Using a sample of all academics who pass through top 50 economics and finance departments from 1996 through 2014, we study whether the granting of tenure leads faculty to pursue riskier ideas. We use the extreme tails of ex-post citations as our measure of risk and find that both the number of publications and the portion consisting of "home runs" peak at tenure and fall steadily for a decade thereafter. Similar patterns hold for faculty at elite (top 10) institutions and for faculty who take differing time to tenure. We find the opposite pattern among poorly-cited publications: their numbers rise steadily both pre- and post-tenure.

The Effect of Charter Competition on Unionized District Revenues and Resource Allocation
Jason Cook
Journal of Public Economics, forthcoming


This study examines the impact of competition due to charter school entry on the level of revenues and the composition of expenditures within traditional public school districts (TPSDs). I leverage a policy change affecting the location and timing of charter entry to account for endogenous charter competition. TPSDs respond to competition by allocating resources away from instructional and other expenditures towards new capital construction. Using teacher contracts, I show that collectively bargained salaries are largely unresponsive to competition and that declines in instructional spending are primarily due to decreases in the number of employed teachers. Competition depresses appraised housing valuations, in turn causing TPSDs to lose property tax revenues resulting in a decline in overall spending.

Housing Disease and Public School Finances
Matthew Davis & Fernando Ferreira
NBER Working Paper, December 2017


Median expenditure per student in U.S. public schools grew 41% in real terms from 1990 to 2009. We propose a new mechanism to explain part of this increase: housing disease, a fiscal externality from local housing markets in which unexpected booms generate extra revenues that schools administrators have incentives to spend, independent of local preferences for provision of public goods. We establish the importance of housing disease by: (i) assembling a novel microdata set containing the universe of housing transactions for a large sample of school districts; and (ii) using the timelines of school district housing booms to disentangle the effects of housing disease from reverse causality and changes in household composition. We estimate housing price elasticities of per-pupil 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.

A Classroom Experiment on Effort Allocation under Relative Grading
Andy Brownback
Economics of Education Review, February 2018, Pages 113-128


Grading on the curve is a form of relative evaluation similar to an all-pay auction or rank-order tournament. When students are drawn from a population distribution into a class, their realized distribution of abilities is predictably linked to the size of the class. Increasing the class size draws students' percentile ranks closer to their population percentiles. Since grades are awarded based on percentile ranks in the class, this reallocates incentives for effort between students with different abilities. The predicted aggregate effort and the predicted effort from high-ability students increases while the predicted effort from low-ability students decreases. [Andreoni, J., Brownback, A., 2017. All pay auctions and group size: Grading on a curve and other applications. Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization.] find that the size of a contest has a causal impact on the aggregate effort from participants and the distribution of effort among heterogeneous agents. In this paper, I randomly assign "class sizes" to quizzes in an economics course to test these predictions in a real-stakes environment. My within-subjects design controls for student, classroom, and time confounds and finds that the lower variance of larger classes elicits greater effort from all but the lowest-ability students, significantly increasing aggregate effort.

The Role of Universities in Local Invention: Evidence from the Establishment of U.S. Colleges
Michael Andrews
Northwestern University Working Paper, November 2017


I exploit historical natural experiments to study how establishing a new college affects local invention. Throughout the nineteenth to the mid-twentieth century, many new colleges were established in the U.S. I use data on the site selection decisions for a subset of these colleges to identify "losing finalist" locations that were strongly considered to become the site of a new college but were ultimately not chosen for reasons that are as good as random assignment. The losing finalists are similar to the winning college counties along observable dimensions. Using the losing finalists as counterfactuals, I find that the establishment of a new college caused 32% more patents per year in college counties relative to the losing finalists. To determine the channels by which colleges increase patenting, I use a novel dataset of college yearbooks and individual-level census data to learn who the additional patents in college counties come from. A college's alumni account for about 10% of the additional patents, while faculty account for less than 1%. Knowledge spillovers to individuals unaffiliated with the college also account for less than 1% of the additional patents. Migration is the most important channel by which colleges affect local invention, as controlling for county population accounts for 20-40% of the increase in patenting in college counties relative to the losing finalists. The presence of geographic spillovers suggests that colleges do cause an overall net increase in patenting, although I find no evidence that colleges are better at promoting invention than other policies that lead to similar increases in population.

Do school budgets matter? The effect of budget referenda on student dropout rates
Kyung-Gon Lee & Solomon Polachek
Education Economics, forthcoming


This paper analyzes how changes in school expenditures affect dropout rates based on data from 466 school districts in New York during the 2003/04 to the 2007/08 school years. Past traditional regression approaches show mixed results in part because school expenditures are likely endogenous, so that one cannot disentangle cause and effect. The regression discontinuity design used in this study isolates exogenous variation in school expenditures per pupil by comparing school districts where budget referenda passed and failed by narrow margins. The results indicate that increases in school expenditures reduce New York State dropout rates.

The Impact of Providing Vision Screening and Free Eyeglasses on Academic Outcomes: Evidence from a Randomized Trial in Title I Elementary Schools in Florida
Paul Glewwe, Kristine West & Jongwook Lee
Journal of Policy Analysis and Management, forthcoming


More than 20 percent of all school-aged children in the United States have vision problems, and low-income and minority children are disproportionately likely to have unmet vision care needs. Vision screening is common in U.S. schools, but it remains an open question whether screening alone is sufficient to improve student outcomes. We implemented a multi-armed randomized controlled trial (RCT) to evaluate the impact of vision screening, and of vision screening accompanied by eye exams and eyeglasses, provided by a non-profit organization to Title I elementary schools in three large central Florida school districts. We find that providing additional/enhanced screening alone is generally insufficient to improve student achievement in math and reading. In contrast, providing screening along with free eye exams and free eyeglasses to students with vision problems improved student achievement as measured by standardized test scores. We find, averaging over all students (including those without vision problems), that this more comprehensive intervention increased the probability of passing the Florida Comprehensive Achievement Tests (FCATs) in reading and math by approximately 2.0 percentage points. We also present evidence that indicates that this impact fades out over time, indicating that follow-up actions after the intervention may be necessary to sustain these estimated achievement gains.

Going Without: An Exploration of Food and Housing Insecurity Among Undergraduates
Katharine Broton & Sara Goldrick-Rab
Educational Researcher, forthcoming


The rising price of higher education and its implications for equity and accessibility have been extensively documented, but the material conditions of students' lives are often overlooked. Data from more than 30,000 two- and 4-year college students indicate that approximately half are food insecure, and recent estimates suggest that at least 20% of 2-year college students have very low levels of food security. At least one-third of 2-year students are housing insecure, including up to 14% who are homeless, whereas between 11% and 19% of 4-year students are housing insecure. Most of these students work and receive financial aid, but only a fraction receive public or private assistance to help make ends meet. Implications for research on college affordability and efforts to boost college graduation rates are discussed.

New Evidence on National Board Certification as a Signal of Teacher Quality
Irina Horoi & Moiz Bhai
Economic Inquiry, forthcoming


Using longitudinal data from North Carolina that contains detailed identifiers, we estimate the effect of having a National Board for Professional Teaching Standards (NBPTS) teacher on academic achievement. We identify the effects of an NBPTS teacher exploiting multiple sources of variation including traditional-lagged achievement models, twin- and sibling-fixed effects, and aggregate grade-level variation. Our preferred estimates show that students taught by National Board certified teachers have higher math and reading scores by 0.04 and 0.01 of a standard deviation. We find that an NBPTS math teacher increases the present value of students' lifetime income by $48,000.

Career/Education Plans and Student Engagement in Secondary School
Jay Stratte Plasman
American Journal of Education, forthcoming


Student engagement in education is key to ensuring successful learning. Engagement becomes crucial as students progress through high school and transition into young adulthood; however, engaging them in high school can be an arduous task. A career/education plan can help students make strong connections between their work in high school and their later lives. Through two-level propensity score matching analyses using data from the High School Longitudinal Study of 2009, this study explores the direct relationship of completing such a plan and student engagement late in high school. I found that completion of a plan had a positive significant relationship with student engagement. These results held true for the entire sample and for the public school sample. This information adds to the growing research on career and college readiness and to more limited literature on the role of education planning in high schools.

Does Vocational Still Imply Tracking? Examining the Evolution of Career and Technical Education Curricular Policy in Texas
Matt Giani
Educational Policy, forthcoming


Vocational education has historically been viewed as a mechanism for reinforcing social stratification by channeling underrepresented students into pathways with limited educational and economic benefits. However, vocational education has evolved significantly over time, most notably with the shift to career and technical education (CTE) in the Carl D. Perkins Act of 2006 (Perkins IV). Texas began reforming its approach to CTE around 2009 in response to Perkins IV. This study compared demographic patterns in CTE participation and the relationship between CTE concentration and postsecondary access for two cohorts of Texas high school graduates, the latter of which began high school under the new CTE policy. The results reveal limited stratification in CTE participation and a positive relationship between CTE concentration and postsecondary access overall, and in particular enrollment in public 4-year colleges, for the latter cohort. The results suggest CTE may be becoming more effective at providing pathways to postsecondary.

Student Loan Nudges: Experimental Evidence on Borrowing and Educational Attainment
Benjamin Marx & Lesley Turner
NBER Working Paper, November 2017


We estimate the impact of student loan "nudges" on community college students' borrowing and provide the first experimental evidence of the effect of student loans on educational attainment. Nonbinding loan offers listed in students' financial aid award letters, that do not alter students' choice sets, significantly affect borrowing. Students randomly assigned to receive a nonzero loan offer were 40 percent more likely to borrow than those who received a $0 loan offer. Nudge-induced borrowing increased both GPA and credits earned by roughly 30 percent in the year of the intervention, and in the following year, increased transfers to four-year colleges by 10 percentage points (nearly 200 percent). We predict that the average student would be better off receiving a nonzero loan offer for any discount rate below 12.4 percent. Students' borrowing responses to the nudge are most consistent with a model in which nonzero offers provide information about loan eligibility, suggesting that for most students, nonzero offers are welfare enhancing. Given that over 5 million U.S. college students receive $0 loan offers, our results indicate the potential to achieve large gains in educational attainment through changes to the choice architecture around borrowing.

Private Governance of Public Schools: Representation, Priorities, and Compliance in New Orleans Charter School Boards
Celeste Lay & Anna Bauman
Urban Affairs Review, forthcoming


In many cities, charter schools make up an increasing proportion of public schools, substantially altering education governance. In New Orleans, nearly every public school student attends a charter school. Each charter school or network has its own private governing board responsible for obtaining and maintaining the school's charter, school finances, and hiring school leadership. We know relatively little about the composition, priorities, or effectiveness of these boards. In this article, we find that New Orleans's charter boards are unrepresentative, are focused on fiduciary responsibilities rather than academics, and routinely fail to comply with state transparency laws. As more schools and other public services in urban areas move to private governance, it is important to examine the people who compose the boards, their decision-making processes, and the extent of public involvement. New Orleans provides a cautionary tale of how this governance system could operate in other cities with growing charter sectors.

Cut From the Same Cloth? Comparing Urban District CBAs Within States and Across the United States
Bradley Marianno et al.
Educational Policy, forthcoming


There is considerable speculation and some empirical evidence that teacher collective bargaining agreements (CBAs) in urban school districts are more restrictive to district administrators than CBAs in other districts. We build on prior work by comparing urban with nonurban CBAs in three states - California, Michigan, and Washington - and, for a set of high-profile provisions, with those in CBAs from 72 of the largest districts in the country outside those states. We find that urban CBAs are more restrictive than nonurban CBAs in all three states, but there is still considerable heterogeneity across districts in overall restrictiveness and in high-profile provisions.


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