Worth Learning

Kevin Lewis

June 22, 2020

Will Studying Economics Make You Rich? A Regression Discontinuity Analysis of the Returns to College Major
Zachary Bleemer & Aashish Mehta
University of California Working Paper, April 2020


Selection bias may confound the identification of field-specific returns to higher education. This study investigates the wage return to studying economics by leveraging a policy that prevented students with low introductory grades from declaring the major. Regression discontinuity estimates show that policy-complying economics majors — who appear representative on observables — earned $22,000 (58%) higher annual early-career wages than they would have with their second-choice majors, despite otherwise-unchanged educational investment and attainment. Cross-industry wage variation explains half of the return, with economics majors channeled towards high-wage economics-related industries. Differences between institution-specific or nationally-representative average wages by major well-approximate the estimated causal return.

Bad Apples or Bad Orchards? An Organizational Analysis of Educator Cheating on Standardized Accountability Tests
Jacob Hibel & Daphne Penn
Sociology of Education, forthcoming


Using an explanatory sequential mixed-methods design, we analyze quantitative administrative and survey data and qualitative archival data to examine the organizational character of standardized test cheating among educators in Georgia elementary schools. Applying a theoretical typology that identifies distinct forms of rule breaking in bureaucratic organizations, we find that teacher-focused, individual-level explanations for cheating are inadequate, particularly in the context of large-scale cheating outbreaks. Our findings suggest cheating scandals tend to arise when rule-breaking decisions shift toward higher levels of the educational bureaucracy, and school and district leaders enact multiple strategies to motivate coordinated cheating efforts among lower-level educators. In these scenarios, a “bad apples” explanation focused on rogue teachers fails to account for the systematic organizational underpinnings of standardized test cheating. We describe the institutional and organizational predictors of organized adult cheating on standardized tests, and we conclude with a discussion of our findings’ implications for education policy and research.

Does closing schools close doors? The effect of high school closings on achievement and attainment
Matthew Larsen
Economics of Education Review, forthcoming


This paper examines the effect of high school closures on student achievement and educational attainment. Previous studies primarily focus on effects of elementary school closings on test scores. This study furthers the literature by focusing on high school closures and examines several measures of achievement and attainment. I utilize student data from the Milwaukee Public School district and follow five freshman cohorts through high school. I find that school closings cause a negative shock to student attendance. Importantly, these closures also have long-run consequence both lowering the probability of high school graduation and college attendance.

Breakfast of Champions: Universal Free Breakfast and Student Conflict and Test Scores in Texas Schools
Brent Norwood
University of Oklahoma Working Paper, January 2020


This paper investigates the relationship between student test scores and conflict outcomes in Texas public schools and whether or not schools participated in the Universal Free Breakfast Program (UFB). Eating a routine breakfast leads to increased physical and mental performance, as well as test scores. Surprisingly, there has been little focus on how eating a routine breakfast affects disruptive behaviors including violence, truancy, and other classroom incidents. I compile a panel data set from two administrative sources in Texas, spanning school years 2009/2010-2016/2017. Using fixed effects models, I find that schools that offer UFB do indeed have higher test scores, and also have reduced conflict outcomes such as fights, substance abuse, and truancy. I also employ a fuzzy regression discontinuity that shows strong results when the 80% free and reduced eligibility cutoff was passed in 2015. The affect applies to all levels of schooling. Using quantile regressions, I compare the magnitude of the total effect between schools with low and high preexisting conflict reports, showing that higher conflict schools do receive a greater benefit from taking part in UFB. These results suggest that the benefit schools receive from taking part in the UFB help their students achieve better outcomes in both schooling, behavior, and general well-being, and increase funding from lower truancy rates.

Outcomes of Childhood Preventive Intervention Across 2 Generations: A Nonrandomized Controlled Trial
Karl Hill et al.
JAMA Pediatrics, forthcoming

Design, Setting, and Participants: This nonrandomized controlled trial was conducted in public elementary schools serving high-crime areas in Seattle, Washington. The panel originated in Seattle but was followed up locally and in out-of-state locations over time. Data analyzed in this study were collected from September 1980 to June 2011, with follow-up of the firstborn offspring (aged 1 through 22 years) of 182 parents who had been in the full intervention vs control conditions in childhood. Their children were assessed across 7 waves in 2 blocks (2002-2006 and 2009-2011). Data were analyzed for this article from September 2018 through January 2019.

Interventions: In grades 1 through 6, the Raising Healthy Children intervention provided elementary school teachers with methods of classroom management and instruction, first-generation (G1) parents with skills to promote opportunities for children’s active involvement in the classroom and family, and second-generation (G2) child with social and emotional skills training.

Results:  A total of 182 G3 children were included in this analysis (72 in the full intervention and 110 in the control condition; mean age at first wave of data collection, 7 [range, 1-13] years). Significant differences in the offspring of intervention parents were observed across 4 domains: improved early child developmental functioning (ages 1-5 years; significant standardized β range, 0.45-0.56), lower teacher-rated behavioral problems (ages 6-18 years; significant standardized β range, –0.39 to –0.46), higher teacher-rated academic skills and performance (ages 6-18 years; significant standardized β range, 0.34-0.49), and lower child-reported risk behavior (ages 6-18 years; odds ratio for any drug use [alcohol, cigarettes, or marijuana], 0.27 [95% CI, 0.10-0.73]).

Consumer debt and satisfaction in life
Adam Eric Greenberg & Cassie Mogilner
Journal of Experimental Psychology: Applied, forthcoming


Life’s major purchases, such as buying a home or going to college, often involve taking on considerable debt. What are the downstream emotional consequences? Does carrying debt influence consumers’ general sense of satisfaction in life? Seven studies examine the relationship between consumers’ debt holdings and life satisfaction, showing that the effect depends on the type of debt. Though mortgages tend to comprise consumers’ largest debts, and though credit card balances tend to have the highest interest rates, we found among a diverse sample of American adults (N = 5,808) that the type of debt most strongly associated with lower levels of life satisfaction is student loans. We further found that the extent to which consumers mentally label a given debt type as “debt” drives the emotional consequences of those debt holdings, and compared to the other debt types, student loans are perceived more as “debt.” Together the findings suggest that carrying debt can spill over to undermine people’s overall subjective well-being, especially when their debt is perceived as such.

Job Search under Debt: Aggregate Implications of Student Loans
Yan Ji
Journal of Monetary Economics, forthcoming


A dynamic equilibrium model of schooling, borrowing, and job search is developed to quantify the aggregate implications of student loans. In my model, risk-averse agents under debt tend to search less and end up with lower-paid jobs. Calibrating the model using micro data, I show that student loans have significant effects on borrowers’ job search decisions under the fixed repayment plan. The income-based repayment plan (IBR) largely alleviates the burden of debt repayment by insuring labor market outcomes, allowing borrowers to conduct a more adequate job search. In general equilibrium, IBR also increases social welfare by encouraging college attendance.

Top of the Class: The Importance of Ordinal Rank
Richard Murphy & Felix Weinhardt
Review of Economic Studies, forthcoming


This paper establishes a new fact about educational production: ordinal academic rank during primary school has lasting impacts on secondary school achievement that are independent of underlying ability. Using data on the universe of English school students, we exploit naturally occurring differences in achievement distributions across primary school classes to estimate the impact of class rank. We find large effects on test scores, confidence, and subject choice during secondary school, even though these students have a new set of peers and teachers who are unaware of the students’ prior ranking in primary school. The effects are especially pronounced for boys, contributing to an observed gender gap in the number of STEM courses chosen at the end of secondary school. Using a basic model of student effort allocation across subjects, we distinguish between learning and non-cognitive skills mechanisms, finding support for the latter.

Mentorship and protégé success in STEM fields
Yifang Ma, Satyam Mukherjee & Brian Uzzi
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, forthcoming


Einstein believed that mentors are especially influential in a protégé’s intellectual development, yet the link between mentorship and protégé success remains a mystery. We marshaled genealogical data on nearly 40,000 scientists who published 1,167,518 papers in biomedicine, chemistry, math, or physics between 1960 and 2017 to investigate the relationship between mentorship and protégé achievement. In our data, we find groupings of mentors with similar records and reputations who attracted protégés of similar talents and expected levels of professional success. However, each grouping has an exception: One mentor has an additional hidden capability that can be mentored to their protégés. They display skill in creating and communicating prizewinning research. Because the mentor’s ability for creating and communicating celebrated research existed before the prize’s conferment, protégés of future prizewinning mentors can be uniquely exposed to mentorship for conducting celebrated research. Our models explain 34–44% of the variance in protégé success and reveals three main findings. First, mentorship strongly predicts protégé success across diverse disciplines. Mentorship is associated with a 2×-to-4× rise in a protégé’s likelihood of prizewinning, National Academy of Science (NAS) induction, or superstardom relative to matched protégés. Second, mentorship is significantly associated with an increase in the probability of protégés pioneering their own research topics and being midcareer late bloomers. Third, contrary to conventional thought, protégés do not succeed most by following their mentors’ research topics but by studying original topics and coauthoring no more than a small fraction of papers with their mentors.

High school start times and student achievement: Looking beyond test scores
Matthew Lenard, Melinda Sandler Morrill & John Westall
Economics of Education Review, forthcoming


The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that U.S. secondary schools begin after 8:30 a.m. to better align with the circadian rhythms of adolescents. Yet due to economic and logistic considerations, the vast majority of high schools begin the school day considerably earlier. We leverage a quasi-natural experiment in which five comprehensive high schools in one of the nation’s largest school systems moved start times forty minutes earlier to better coordinate with earlier-start high schools. Here, disruption effects should exacerbate any harmful consequences. We report on the effect of earlier start times on a broad range of outcomes, including mandatory ACT test scores, absenteeism, on-time progress in high school, and college-going. While we fail to find evidence of harmful effects on test scores, we do see a rise in absenteeism and tardiness rates, as well as higher rates of dropping out of high school. These results suggest that the harmful effects of early start times may not be well captured by considering test scores alone.

Effects of Flipped Classroom Instruction: Evidence from a Randomized Trial
Elizabeth Setren et al.
Education Finance and Policy, forthcoming


In a flipped classroom, an increasingly popular pedagogical model, students view a video lecture at home and work on exercises with the instructor during class time. Advocates of the flipped classroom claim the practice not only improves student achievement, but also ameliorates the achievement gap. We conduct a randomized controlled trial at West Point and find that the flipped classroom produced short term gains in Math and no effect in Economics. The flipped model broadened the achievement gap: effects are driven by white, male, and higher achieving students. We find no long-term average effects on student learning, but the widened achievement gap persists. Our findings demonstrate feasibility for the flipped classroom to induce short term gains in student learning; however, the exacerbation of the achievement gap, the effect fade-out, and the null effects in Economics suggest that educators should exercise caution when considering the model.

School Closures in Chicago: What Happened to the Teachers?
Helen Lee & Lauren Sartain
Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis, forthcoming


In 2013, the Chicago Board of Education closed 47 elementary schools, directly affecting 13,000 students and 900 teachers. The closures created employment uncertainty for closed-school teachers, and this article investigates the labor market consequences for teachers. We employ a difference-in-differences approach that compares the exit rates of closed-school teachers with teachers in schools that only experienced threat of closure. We estimate that the closures resulted in a near doubling of teacher exit among teachers in closed schools, particularly among low-performing teachers. We also find that, among closed-school teachers, Black teachers were more likely to return than White teachers. Given the nationwide trend of school closures for budgetary or performance reasons, this article has implications for strategic retention of effective teachers.

Completion at the Expense of Access? The Relationship Between Performance-Funding Policies and Access to Public 4-Year Universities
Denisa Gándara & Amanda Rutherford
Educational Researcher, forthcoming


Efforts to improve college-completion rates have dominated higher education policy agendas. Performance-based funding (PBF) intends to improve college completion and links state funding for public colleges and universities to performance measures. One critique of PBF policies is that institutions might restrict student access. This study uses a difference-in-differences design and institution-level data from 2001 to 2014 to examine whether 4-year, public institutions become more selective or enroll fewer underrepresented students under PBF. Our findings, supported by various robustness checks, suggest that institutions subject to PBF enroll students with higher standardized test scores and enroll fewer first-generation students. PBF models tied to institutions’ base funding are more strongly associated with increased standardized test scores and enrollment of Pell students.

Failing at Remediation? College Remedial Coursetaking, Failure and Long-Term Student Outcomes
Tanya Sanabria, Andrew Penner & Thurston Domina
Research in Higher Education, June 2020, Pages 459–484


Colleges offer remedial coursework to help students enrolling in post-secondary education who are not adequately prepared to succeed in college-level courses. Despite the prevalence of remediation, previous research presents contradictory findings regarding its short- and long-term effects. This paper uses a doubly robust inverse probability weighting strategy to examine whether the degree completion and wage outcomes associated with remedial education vary by passing or failing remedial coursework. Using the NLSY Postsecondary Transcript-1997 data, we find that almost 30% of remedial course takers fail a remedial course. Students who took and passed their remedial coursework at both 2-year and 4-year colleges were more likely to graduate from college than similar students who did not take remediation. For both 2-year and 4-year college entrants, students who failed remedial coursework were less likely to obtain a bachelor’s degree and, among degree receivers, took longer to graduate. Students who entered 2-year or 4-year colleges and who failed remedial coursework earned lower wages over time compared to similar students who never took remediation. Among 4-year college entrants, these wage differences seem to be explained completely by degree completion. However, wage differences for 2-year college entrants still remain after accounting for degree receipt. Our findings thus suggest that while many students may benefit from remedial education, a substantial number of students struggle with remedial coursework and fail to realize the intended benefits.

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