The Right Schools

Kevin Lewis

April 15, 2024

On the Spatial Determinants of Educational Access
Francesco Agostinelli, Margaux Luflade & Paolo Martellini
NBER Working Paper, March 2024

We define educational access as the component of a neighborhood's value that is determined by the set of schools available to its residents. This paper studies the extent to which educational access is determined by sorting based on heterogeneous preferences over school attributes, or local institutions that constrain residential location and school choice -- such as school catchment areas and housing regulation. We develop a spatial equilibrium model of residential sorting and school choice, estimated using data from a large school district in the United States. The model replicates the responses of house prices and school enrollment to quasi-experimental variation in school peer composition and school transportation provision. We find that low-income families prioritize proximity to schools while high-income families and families with high-skilled children place more value on school peer composition. We use the model to evaluate how the geography of neighborhood sorting influences the aggregate and distributional outcomes of a school-choice expansion (place-based) and a housing voucher (people-based) policy. We find that both policies result in net welfare losses, with only marginal improvements in school peer composition for the average low-income family. Although eligible families benefit from these policies, the negative impact falls on families who currently invest in their children's education by residing in expensive neighborhoods. Under both policies, higher-income families are less exposed to the inflow of low-income children into their schools, either because of their longer distance from target neighborhoods or because of the cost imposed by residential zoning regulation on voucher recipients.

Marginal Returns to Public Universities
Jack Mountjoy
NBER Working Paper, April 2024

This paper studies the causal impacts of public universities on the outcomes of their marginally admitted students. I use administrative admission records spanning all 35 public universities in Texas, which collectively enroll 10 percent of American public university students, to systematically identify and employ decentralized cutoffs in SAT/ACT scores that generate discontinuities in admission and enrollment. The typical marginally admitted student completes an additional year of education in the four-year sector, is 12 percentage points more likely to earn a bachelor's degree, and eventually earns 5-10 percent more than their marginally rejected but otherwise identical counterpart. Marginally admitted students pay no additional tuition costs thanks to offsetting grant aid; cost-benefit calculations show internal rates of return of 19-23 percent for the marginal students themselves, 10-12 percent for society (which must pay for the additional education), and 3-4 percent for the government budget. Finally, I develop a method to disentangle separate effects for students on the extensive margin of the four-year sector versus those who would fall back to another four-year school if rejected. Substantially larger extensive margin effects drive the results.

Novice Teachers and Student Attendance in Early Elementary School
Michael Gottfried, Michael Little & Arya Ansari
Educational Policy, forthcoming

Student absenteeism in the earliest years of elementary school has been linked to a range of negative outcomes. Though the literature has examined numerous factors that are associated with children missing school, the role of teachers -- especially at the early elementary level -- has not been well understood. Given that students spend the majority of their time in elementary school with one teacher in a single classroom, a large component of early elementary school is underexplored, and our understanding of absenteeism remains incomplete. In this vein, we looked into whether having novice versus more experienced teachers was linked to the frequency of student absenteeism in the earliest years of school. Using a national dataset including repeated observations of students in grades K-2, we found that novice teachers have students with fewer absences and a lower probability of being chronically absent. There were no differences in the outcomes of novice teachers as a function of child nor classroom characteristics. Implications for policy and practice are discussed.

Estimates of Teach for America Effects on Student Test and Nontest Academic Outcomes Over Time
Ben Backes & Michael Hansen
AERA Open, March 2024

This article examines the impact of Teach for America (TFA) on following-year student test and nontest outcomes in Miami-Dade County Public Schools. Using data from 2010 through 2021, this article measures the extent to which student exposure to TFA is followed by improved outcomes in the future, relative to students with other early-career teachers in the same school. In particular, this article measures days missed due to absences or suspensions, course grades in each core subject, and progression in math courses. We find that students taught by TFA math teachers go on to have higher grades in math courses in the following year and are less likely to miss school due to being absent or suspended. However, while students in TFA classrooms score higher on math and ELA assessments in a given year, these test score gains fade out by the following year.

College Course Shutouts
Kevin Mumford, Richard Patterson & Anthony LokTing Yim
Purdue University Working Paper, March 2024

What happens when college students are not able to enroll in the courses they want? We use a natural experiment at Purdue University in which first-year students are conditionally randomly assigned to oversubscribed courses. Compared to students who are assigned a requested course, those who are shut out are 40% less likely to ever take the oversubscribed course and 30% less likely to ever take a course in the same subject. While a course shutout is equally likely to occur to female and male students who requested the course, shutouts are much more disruptive for female students. In the short run, shutouts decrease the credits female students earn as well as their GPA. In the long-run, shutouts increase the probability female students drop out of school in the first year, decrease the probability they choose majors in STEM fields (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math), decrease cumulative GPA, and decrease the probability of graduating within four years. In contrast, shutouts have no effects on short-run credits earned, dropout, majoring in STEM, cumulative GPA, or four-year graduation for male students. Shutouts do have one large measurable long-run impact on male students—shutouts significantly increase the probability that men choose a major from the business school.

Measuring the Commercial Potential of Science
Roger Masclans-Armengol, Sharique Hasan & Wesley Cohen
NBER Working Paper, March 2024

This paper uses a large language model to develop an ex-ante measure of the commercial potential of scientific findings. In addition to validating the measure against the typical holdout sample, we validate it externally against 1.) the progression of scientific findings through a major university’s technology transfer process and 2.) firms’ use of the academic science of major American research universities. We then illustrate the measure’s utility by applying it to two questions. First, does the patenting of academic research by universities impede its breadth of use by firms? Second, to illustrate how this measure can advance our understanding of the determinants of firms’ use of science generally, we use it to analyze how one factor, universities’ reputations for generating commercializable science, impacts firms’ use of academic science. For the former question, using our measure to control for commercializable science, we find that patenting does not dampen the dissemination of academic science in industry. For the second, we find that reputation per se, apart from the production of commercializable science, impacts industry’s use of science, especially for that science with high commercial potential, implying that the commercializable science of less prominent universities is disproportionately overlooked by industry.

School Bus Rebate Program and Student Educational Performance Test Scores
Meredith Pedde et al.
JAMA Network Open, March 2024

Objective: To leverage the EPA’s randomized allocation of funding under the 2012-2016 School Bus Rebate Programs to estimate the association between replacing old, highly polluting buses and changes in district-average standardized test scores.

Design, Setting, and Participants: This study examined changes in reading and language arts (RLA) and math test scores among US school district applicants to the EPA’s 2012-2016 national School Bus Rebate Programs 1 year before and after each lottery by selection status. Data analysis was conducted from January 15 to July 30, 2023.

Results: This study included 1941 school district applicants to the 2012-2106 EPA School Bus Rebate Programs. These districts had a mean (SD) of 14.6 (33.7) schools per district, 8755 (23 776) students per district, and 41.3% (20.2%) of students with free lunch eligibility. Among the applicants, 209 districts (11%) were selected for the clean bus funding. District-average student test scores did not improve among selected districts overall. In secondary analyses, however, districts replacing the oldest, highest polluting buses (ie, pre-1990) experienced significantly greater improvements in district-average test scores in the year after the lottery for RLA and math (SD improvement in test scores, 0.062 [95% CI, 0.050-0.074] and 0.025 [95% CI, 0.011-0.039], respectively) compared with districts without replacements.

How do public schools respond to competition? Evidence from a charter school expansion
Zachary Tobin
Economics of Education Review, April 2024

Despite the rapid increase in alternative schooling options across the United States in recent years, spillover effects of competition on public school students are not well understood. Standard arguments in support of school choice claim that competition creates incentives for incumbent schools to improve academic quality, but I argue that these schools may respond through increased provision of services valued by households that do not directly improve academic achievement. Using data from a charter school expansion in North Carolina, I find that charter competition had a negative effect on student achievement in public middle schools, and that this was importantly related to an increase in household influence and a decrease in teacher empowerment within incumbent schools.

The Effect of Early Childhood Programs on Third-Grade Test Scores: Evidence from Transitional Kindergarten in Michigan
Jordan Berne et al.
NBER Working Paper, March 2024

Transitional Kindergarten (TK) is a relatively recent entrant into the U.S. early education landscape, combining features of public pre-K and regular kindergarten. We provide the first estimates of the impact of Michigan’s TK program on 3rd grade test scores. Using an augmented regression discontinuity design, we find that TK improves 3rd grade test scores by 0.29 (math) and 0.19 (English Language Arts) standard deviations relative to a counterfactual that includes other formal and informal early learning options. These impacts are notably large relative to the prior pre-K literature.

The effects of charter school entry on the supply of teachers from university-based education programs
Feng Chen, Douglas Harris & Mary Penn
Economics of Education Review, April 2024

Research on charter schools tends to focus on direct and immediate effects on student outcomes. However, there may be unintended indirect effects on, for example, the teacher labor market. Charter schools tend to hire teachers with fewer traditional teaching credentials, which may reduce the equilibrium quantity of teachers who have traditional credentials and seek to make teaching a career. We test whether charter entry reduces the supply of university teacher education degrees, exploiting within- and between-district variation in the timing of charter school entry in districts containing college teacher preparation programs. Applying a generalized difference-in-difference model, we find that a 10 percent increase in charter market share decreases the supply of traditionally prepared teachers by one percent per year on average. This effect is concentrated in elementary education and special education degrees, which, anecdotally, are less valued in charter schools.


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