Topic: Education - K-12

with Diane Schanzenbach.

Journal of Labor Economics 40 (S1).
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In two 1992 papers, Card and Krueger used labor market outcomes to study the productivity of school spending. Following their lead, we examine the effects of post-1990 school finance reforms on students’ educational attainment and labor market outcomes. Using a state-by-cohort panel design, we find that reforms increased high school completion and college-going, concentrated among Black students and women, and raised annual earnings. The reforms also increased the return to education, particularly for Black students and men, driven by the return to high school.

Journal of Labor Economics 37(S1).
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Intergenerational income transmission varies across commuting zones (CZs). I investigate whether children’s educational outcomes help to explain this variation. Differences among CZs in the relationship between parental income and children’s human capital explain only one-ninth of the variation in income transmission. A similar share is explained by differences in the return to human capital. One-third reflects earnings differences not mediated by human capital, and 40% reflects differences in marriage patterns. Intergenerational mobility appears to reflect job networks and the structure of local labor and marriage markets more than it does the education system.

with Julien Lafortune and Diane Schanzenbach

American Economic Journal: Applied Economics 10(2).
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We study the impact of post-1990 school finance reforms, during the so-called “adequacy” era, on absolute and relative spending and achievement in low-income school districts. Using an event study research design that exploits the apparent randomness of reform timing, we show that reforms lead to sharp, immediate, and sustained increases in spending in low-income school districts. Using representative samples from the National Assessment of Educational Progress, we find that reforms cause increases in the achievement of students in these districts, phasing in gradually over the years following the reform. The implied effect of school resources on educational achievement is large.

American Economic Review 107(6).
NB: This paper previously circulated under the title “Revisiting the Impact of Teachers.”
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Chetty, Friedman, and Rockoff (2014a, b) study value-added (VA) measures of teacher effectiveness. CFR (2014a) exploits teacher switching as a quasi-experiment, concluding that student sorting creates negligible bias in VA scores. CFR (2014b) finds VA scores are useful proxies for teachers’ effects on students’ long-run outcomes. I successfully reproduce each in North Carolina data. But I find that the quasi-experiment is invalid, as teacher switching is correlated with changes in student preparedness. Adjusting for this, I find moderate bias in VA scores, perhaps 10-35 percent as large, in variance terms, as teachers’ causal effects. Long-run results are sensitive to controls and cannot support strong conclusions.

with Brian Jacob

Journal of Economic Perspectives 30(3).
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American Economic Review 105(1).
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Teacher contracts that condition pay and retention on demonstrated performance can improve selection into and out of teaching. I study alternative contracts in a simulated teacher labor market that incorporates dynamic self-selection and Bayesian learning. Bonus policies create only modest incentives and thus have small effects on selection. Reductions in tenure rates can have larger effects, but must be accompanied by substantial salary increases; elimination of tenure confers little additional benefit unless firing rates are extremely high. Benefits of both bonus and tenure policies exceed costs, though optimal policies are sensitive to labor market parameters about which little is known.

with Nathan Wozny

Journal of Human Resources 48(3).
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Analysts often examine the black-white test score gap conditional on current family income. We describe a method for identifying the gap conditional on the family’s permanent income. Current income explains only about half as much of the black-white test gap as does permanent income, and the gap among families with the same permanent income is only 0.2 to 0.3 standard deviations in two commonly used samples. When we add permanent income to the controls used by Fryer and Levitt (2006), the unexplained gap in third grade shrinks below 0.15 SDs, less than half of what is found with their controls.

with William J. Mathis

Think Tank Review, National Education Policy Center, Boulder, Colorado.

with Linda Darling-Hammond, Audrey Amrein-Beardsley, and Edward Haertel

Phi Delta Kappan 93(6).
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Think Tank Review, National Education Policy Center, Boulder, Colorado.