NATIONAL BUREAU OF ECONOMIC RESEARCH
NATIONAL BUREAU OF ECONOMIC RESEARCH

The Elite Illusion: Achievement Effects at Boston and New York Exam Schools

Atila Abdulkadiroglu, Joshua D. Angrist, Parag A. Pathak

NBER Working Paper No. 17264
Issued in July 2011
NBER Program(s):   ED   LS

Talented students compete fiercely for seats at Boston and New York exam schools. These schools are characterized by high levels of peer achievement and a demanding curriculum tailored to each district's highest achievers. While exam school students do very well in school, the question of whether an exam school education adds value relative to a regular public education remains open. We estimate the causal effect of exam school attendance using a regression-discontinuity design, reporting both parametric and non- parametric estimates. The outcomes studied here include scores on state standardized achievement tests, PSAT and SAT participation and scores, and AP scores. Our estimates show little effect of exam school offers on most students' achievement. We use two-stage least squares to convert reduced form estimates of the effects of exam school offers into estimates of peer and tracking effects, arguing that these appear to be unimportant in this context. Finally, we explore the external validity of RD estimates, arguing that as best we can tell, there is little effect of an exam school education on achievement even for the highest-ability marginal applicants and for applicants to the right of admissions cutoffs. On the other hand, a Boston exam school education seems to have a modest effect on high school English scores for minority applicants. A small group of 9th grade applicants also appears to do better on SAT Reasoning. These localized gains notwithstanding, the intense competition for exam school seats does not appear to be justified by improved learning for a broad set of students.

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This paper was revised on December 5, 2011

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Document Object Identifier (DOI): 10.3386/w17264

Published: Atila Abdulkadiro├ä┬člu & Joshua Angrist & Parag Pathak, 2014. "The Elite Illusion: Achievement Effects at Boston and New York Exam Schools," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 82(1), pages 137-196, 01.

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