NBER Working Papers by Julian Betts

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Working Papers

March 2009Reduced-Class Distinctions: Effort, Ability, and the Education Production Function
with Philip Babcock: w14777
Do smaller classes boost achievement mainly by helping teachers impart specific academic skills to students with low academic achievement? Or do they do so primarily by helping teachers engage poorly behaving students? The analysis uses the grade 3 to 4 transition in San Diego Unified School District as a source of exogenous variation in class size (given a California law funding small classes until grade 3). Grade 1 report cards allow separate identification of low-effort and low-achieving students. Results indicate that elicitation of effort or engagement, rather than the teaching of specific skills, may be the dominant channel by which small classes influence disadvantaged students.

Published: Babcock, Philip & Betts, Julian R., 2009. "Reduced-class distinctions: Effort, ability, and the education production function," Journal of Urban Economics, Elsevier, vol. 65(3), pages 314-322, May. citation courtesy of

Value-Added to What? How a Ceiling in the Testing Instrument Influences Value-Added Estimation
with Cory Koedel: w14778
Value-added measures of teacher quality may be sensitive to the quantitative properties of the student tests upon which they are based. This paper focuses on the sensitivity of value-added to test-score-ceiling effects. Test-score ceilings are increasingly common in testing instruments across the country as education policy continues to emphasize proficiency-based reform. Encouragingly, we show that over a wide range of test-score-ceiling severity, teachers' value-added estimates are only negligibly influenced by ceiling effects. However, as ceiling conditions approach those found in minimum-competency testing environments, value-added results are significantly altered. We suggest a simple statistical check for ceiling effects.

Published: Cory Koedel & Julian Betts, 2010. "Value Added to What? How a Ceiling in the Testing Instrument Influences Value-Added Estimation," Education Finance and Policy, MIT Press, vol. 5(1), pages 54-81, January. citation courtesy of

September 2000The Impact of Grading Standards on Student Achievement, Educational Attainment, and Entry-Level Earnings
with Jeff Grogger: w7875
Despite recent theoretical work and proposals from educational reformers, there is little empirical work on the effects of higher grading standards. In this paper we use data from the High School and Beyond survey to estimate the effects of grading standards on student achievement, educational attainment, and entry level earnings. We consider not only how grading standards affect average outcomes but also how they affect the distribution of educational gains by skill level and race/ethnicity. We find that higher standards raise test scores throughout the distribution of achievement, but that the increase is greatest toward the top of the test score distribution. Higher standards have no positive effect on educational attainment, however, and indeed have negative effects on high school grad...

Published: Betts, Julian R. & Grogger, Jeff, 2003. "The impact of grading standards on student achievement, educational attainment, and entry-level earnings," Economics of Education Review, Elsevier, vol. 22(4), pages 343-352, August. citation courtesy of

October 1998The Educational Attainment of Immigrants: Trends and Implications
with Magnus Lofstrom: w6757
This paper uses the 1970, 1980, and 1990 U.S. Censuses to study trends in educational attainment of immigrants relative to natives. Immigrants have become relatively less highly educated, but have become more highly educated in an absolute sense. The effects of changes in relative educational attainment between immigrants and natives on earnings are studied. Educational differences are found to explain more than half the observed wage gap between the two groups. The paper also allows for non-linearities in returns to education. Sheepskin effects influence earnings in different ways for natives and immigrants. Differences in returns to pre- and post-migration education also appear. The paper also finds evidence that immigrants crowd natives out of education, although the effects are st...

Published: The Educational Attainment of Immigrants: Trends and Implications, Julian R. Betts, Magnus Lofstrom. in Issues in the Economics of Immigration, Borjas. 2000

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