Essays on the Economics of Education

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Essays on the Economics of Education

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Title: Essays on the Economics of Education
Author: Cohodes, Sarah Rose ORCID  0000-0002-7921-7020
Citation: Cohodes, Sarah Rose. 2015. Essays on the Economics of Education. Doctoral dissertation, Harvard University, Graduate School of Arts & Sciences.
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Abstract: This dissertation includes three essays in the field of economics of education.

The first essay provides estimates of the long-run impacts of tracking high-achieving students using data from a Boston Public Schools (BPS) program, Advanced Work Class (AWC). AWC is an accelerated curriculum in 4th through 6th grades with dedicated classrooms. Using a fuzzy regression discontinuity approach based on the AWC entrance exam, I find that AWC has little impact on test scores. However, it improves longer-term academic outcomes including Algebra 1 enrollment by 8th grade, AP exam taking, and college enrollment. The college enrollment effect is particularly large for elite institutions. Testing potential channels for program effects provides suggestive evidence that teacher effectiveness and math acceleration account for AWC effects, with little evidence that peer effects contribute to gains.

The second essay uses item-level information from standardized tests to investigate whether large test score gains attributed to Boston charter schools can be explained by score inflation. To do so, I estimate the impact of charter school attendance on subscales of the test scores and examine them for evidence of score inflation. If charter schools are teaching to the test to a greater extent than their counterparts, one would expect to see higher scores on commonly tested standards, higher stakes subjects, and frequently tested topics. However, despite incentives to reallocate effort toward highly-tested content, and to coach to item type, I find no evidence of this type of test preparation. Boston charter middle schools perform consistently across all standardized test subscales.

The third essay analyzes a Massachusetts merit aid program that gives high-scoring students tuition waivers at in-state public colleges with lower graduation rates than available alternative colleges. A regression discontinuity design comparing students just above and below the eligibility threshold finds that students are remarkably willing to forgo college quality and that scholarship use actually lowered college completion rates. These results suggest that college quality affects college completion rates. The theoretical prediction that in-kind subsidies of public institutions can reduce consumption of the subsidized good is shown to be empirically important.
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