Multiple choice

Kevin Lewis

June 05, 2017

Virtual Classrooms: How Online College Courses Affect Student Success
Eric Bettinger et al.
American Economic Review, forthcoming


Online college courses are a rapidly expanding feature of higher education, yet little research identifies their effects relative to traditional in-person classes. Using an instrumental variables approach, we find that taking a course online, instead of in-person, reduces student success and progress in college. Grades are lower both for the course taken online and in future courses. Students are less likely to remain enrolled at the university. These estimates are local average treatment effects for students with access to both online and in-person options; for other students online classes may be the only option for accessing college-level courses.

Management and Student Achievement: Evidence from a Randomized Field Experiment
Roland Fryer
NBER Working Paper, May 2017


This study examines the impact on student achievement of implementing management training for principals in traditional public schools in Houston, Texas, using a school-level randomized field experiment. Across two years, principals were provided 300 hours of training on lesson planning, data-driven instruction, and teacher observation and coaching. The findings show that offering management training to principals significantly increases student achievement in all subjects in year one and has an insignificant effect in year two. We argue that the results in year two are driven by principal turnover, coupled with the cumulative nature of the training. Schools with principals who are predicted to remain in their positions for both years of the experiment demonstrate large treatment effects in both years – particularly those with principals who are also predicted to implement the training with high fidelity – while those with principals that are predicted to leave have statistically insignificant effects in each year of treatment.

The Impact of Student Debt on Education, Career, and Marriage Choices of Female Lawyers
Holger Sieg & Yu Wang
NBER Working Paper, May 2017


We develop and estimate a dynamic model to study the impact of student debt on education, career, and marriage market choices of young female lawyers. Our model accounts for several important institutional features of the labor market for lawyers, including differences in the work hours across occupational tracks and learning about the prospects of promotion to partner. Some female students need to take on large amounts of student debt to finance their education and hence start their careers with large amounts of negative wealth. The empirical findings suggest that student debt has negative effects on marriage prospects, career prospects, and investments in educational quality of female lawyers. The analysis also provides new insights into the design of public policies that aim to increase public sector employment. We show that it is possible to design conditional wage or debt service subsidy programs that significantly increase public sector career choices at reasonable costs.

Challenges in educational reform: An experiment on active learning in mathematics
Samuel Berlinski & Matias Busso
Economics Letters, July 2017, Pages 172–175


This paper reports the results of an experiment designed to improve secondary school students’ ability to reason and argue using mathematics. A structured pedagogical intervention was created to foster a more active role of students in the classroom. The intervention was implemented with high fidelity and was internally valid. Surprisingly, students in the control group learned significantly more than those who received treatment.

Does Choice Increase Information? Evidence from Online School Search Behavior
Michael Lovenheim & Patrick Walsh
NBER Working Paper, May 2017


We examine whether changes in the local school choice environment affect the amount of information parents collect about local school quality, using data on over 100 million searches from We link monthly data on search frequency in local “Search Units” to information on changes in open enrollment policies, tuition vouchers, charitable scholarship tax credits, tuition tax credits, local choice opportunities driven by No Child Left Behind sanctions and charter school penetration. Our results indicate that expansions in school choice rules and opportunities in a given area have large, positive effects on the frequency of searches done for schools in that area. These estimates suggest that the information parents have about local schools is endogenous to the choice environment they face, and that parental information depends not just on the availability of data, but also the incentive to seek and use it.

School Choice, Gentrification, and the Variable Significance of Racial Stratification in Urban Neighborhoods
Francis Pearman & Walker Swain
Sociology of Education, forthcoming


Racial and socioeconomic stratification have long governed patterns of residential sorting in the American metropolis. However, recent expansions of school choice policies that allow parents to select schools outside their neighborhood raise questions as to whether this weakening of the neighborhood–school connection might influence the residential decisions of higher-socioeconomic-status white households looking to relocate to central city neighborhoods. This study examines whether and the extent to which expanded school choice facilitates the gentrification of disinvested, racially segregated urban communities. Drawing data from the Decennial Census, the American Community Survey, the National Center for Educational Statistics, and the Schools and Staffing Survey, this study finds evidence that college-educated white households are far more likely to gentrify communities of color when school choice options expand. In particular, the expansion of school choice increases the likelihood of gentrification by up to 22 percentage points in the most racially isolated neighborhoods of color — more than twice the baseline likelihood for such communities.

Rethinking the Benefits of Youth Employment Programs: The Heterogeneous Effects of Summer Jobs
Jonathan Davis & Sara Heller
NBER Working Paper, May 2017


This paper reports the results of two randomized field experiments, each offering different populations of youth a supported summer job in Chicago. In both experiments, the program dramatically reduces violent-crime arrests, even after the summer. It does so without improving employment, schooling, or other types of crime; if anything, property crime increases over 2-3 post-program years. To explore mechanisms, we implement a machine learning method that predicts treatment heterogeneity using observables. The method identifies a subgroup of youth with positive employment impacts, whose characteristics differ from the disconnected youth served in most employment programs. We find that employment benefiters commit more property crime than their control counterparts, and non-benefiters also show a decline in violent crime. These results do not seem consistent with typical theory about improved human capital and better labor market opportunities creating a higher opportunity cost of crime, or even with the idea that these programs just keep youth busy. We discuss several alternative mechanisms, concluding that brief youth employment programs can generate substantively important behavioral change, but for different outcomes, different youth, and different reasons than those most often considered in the literature.

Does One Year of Schooling Improve Children’s Cognitive Control and Alter Associated Brain Activation?
Garvin Brod, Silvia Bunge & Yee Lee Shing
Psychological Science, forthcoming


The “5-to-7-year shift” refers to the remarkable improvements observed in children’s cognitive abilities during this age range, particularly in their ability to exert control over their attention and behavior — that is, their executive functioning. As this shift coincides with school entry, the extent to which it is driven by brain maturation or by exposure to formal schooling is unclear. In this longitudinal study, we followed 5-year-olds born close to the official cutoff date for entry into first grade and compared those who subsequently entered first grade that year with those who remained in kindergarten, which is more play oriented. The first graders made larger improvements in accuracy on an executive-function test over the year than did the kindergartners. In an independent functional MRI task, we found that the first graders, compared with the kindergartners, exhibited a greater increase in activation of right posterior parietal cortex, a region previously implicated in sustained attention; increased activation in this region was correlated with the improvement in accuracy. These results reveal how the environmental context of formal schooling shapes brain mechanisms underlying improved focus on cognitively demanding tasks.

Call My Rep! How Unions Overcame the Free-Rider Problem
Richard John Murphy
University of Texas Working Paper, March 2017


This paper proposes an explanation of why union membership has been increasing in some occupations, despite the opportunity to freeride on traditional union benefits. I model membership as legal insurance whose demand increases with the perceived risk of allegations. Using media reports on allegations against teachers as shocks to perceived risk, I find for every five reports occurring in a region, teachers are 2.5 percentage points more likely to be members in the subsequent year. These effects are larger when teachers share characteristics with the news story and explain 45 percent of the growth in teacher union membership since 1992.

How Does For-Profit College Attendance Affect Student Loans, Defaults, and Earnings?
Luis Armona, Rajashri Chakrabarti & Michael Lovenheim
Federal Reserve Working Paper, April 2017


For-profit providers are becoming an increasingly important fixture of U.S. 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-profit schools 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. We approach this problem using a novel instrument combined with more comprehensive data on student outcomes than have been employed in prior research. Our instrument leverages the interaction between increases in the demand for college when labor demand declines and the local supply of for-profit schools. We compare enrollment and post-secondary 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 and 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, we 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 — a finding that has important implications for public investments in higher education as well as how students make post-secondary education choices.

How Do Peers Impact Learning? An Experimental Investigation of Peer-to-Peer Teaching and Ability Tracking
Erik Kimbrough, Andrew McGee & Hitoshi Shigeoka
NBER Working Paper, May 2017


Classroom peers are believed to influence learning by teaching each other, and the efficacy of this teaching likely depends on classroom composition in terms of peers’ ability. Unfortunately, little is known about peer-to-peer teaching because it is never observed in field studies. Furthermore, identifying how peer-to-peer teaching is affected by ability tracking — grouping students of similar ability — is complicated by the fact that tracking is typically accompanied by changes in curriculum and the instructional behavior of teachers. To fill this gap, we conduct a laboratory experiment in which subjects learn to solve logic problems and examine both the importance of peer-to-peer teaching and the interaction between peer-to-peer teaching and ability tracking. While peer-to-peer teaching improves learning among low-ability subjects, the positive effects are substantially offset by tracking. Tracking reduces the frequency of peer-to-peer teaching, suggesting that low-ability subjects suffer from the absence of high-ability peers to teach them.

Short vs. long: Cognitive load, retention and changing class structures
Brandon Sheridan, Ben Smith & Erin Pleggenkuhle-Miles
Education Economics, forthcoming


University class structure is changing. To accommodate working students, programmes are increasing their offerings of long night classes – some lasting as long as six hours. While these long classes may be more convenient for students, they have unintended consequences as a result of cognitive load. Using a panel of 124 students (372 observations) and a differencing approach that controls for student characteristics, we show that student exam performance decreases by approximately one-half letter grade on content taught in the second half of a long class (significant at the 5% level).

Long-term consequences of youth volunteering: Voluntary versus involuntary service
Jinho Kim & Kerem Morgül
Social Science Research, forthcoming


Despite the renewed interest in youth volunteering in recent years, there remain major gaps in our knowledge of its consequences. Drawing data from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent to Adult Health, we examine the long-term effects of youth volunteering on the civic and personal aspects of volunteers’ lives. Our results suggest that youth volunteering has a positive return on adult volunteering only when it is voluntary, and that net of contextual factors neither voluntary nor involuntary youth service has a significant effect on adult voting. Regarding personal outcomes, our findings indicate that the psychological benefits of youth volunteering accrue only to voluntary participants, whereas both voluntary and involuntary youth service are positively associated with educational attainment and earnings in young adulthood. Taken together, these results lend support to the case for youth volunteer programs, though the civic benefits of these programs appear to be less dramatic than generally suggested.

Impacts of New School Facility Construction: An Analysis of a State-Financed Capital Subsidy Program in Ohio
Michael Conlin & Paul Thompson
Economics of Education Review, forthcoming


This paper analyzes Ohio’s capital subsidy program which distributed over $10B for school construction in 231 school districts between 1997 and 2011. Using an instrumental variables estimation, we find the percentage of students meeting test score proficiency thresholds decrease in math and reading in the first couple years after the capital expenditures and then increase in subsequent years. These results are consistent with short-term disruptions in student learning followed by long-term benefits from the capital expenditures. We also consider mechanisms by which capital expenditures affect achievement and find some evidence that changes in capital expenditures are correlated with changes in operating expenditures, suggesting that some of these effects may be attributable to operating expenditures. We find similar effects of these capital investments on the housing market. While in the short-term these construction projects decrease home prices, the housing market does benefit in the long-term from improvements to the capital stock.

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