The Effect of Community Traumatic Events on Student Achievement: Evidence from the Beltway Sniper Attacks

Seth Gershenson, Erdal Tekin

NBER Working Paper No. 21055
Issued in March 2015, Revised in March 2016
NBER Program(s):Children, Economics of Education, Health Economics, Law and Economics

Community traumatic events such as mass shootings, terrorist attacks, and natural or man-made disasters have the potential to disrupt student learning in numerous ways. For example, these events can reduce instructional time by causing teacher and student absences, school closures, and disturbances to usual classroom routines. Similarly, they might also disrupt home environments. This paper uses a quasi-experimental research design to identify the effects of the 2002 “Beltway Sniper” attacks on student achievement in Virginia’s public elementary schools. In order to identify the causal impact of these events, the empirical analysis uses a difference-in-differences strategy that exploits geographic variation in schools’ proximity to the attacks. The main results indicate that the attacks significantly reduced school-level proficiency rates in schools within five miles of an attack. Evidence of a causal effect is most robust for math proficiency rates in the third and fifth grades, and third grade reading proficiency, suggesting that the shootings caused a decline in school proficiency rates of about five to nine percentage points. Particularly concerning from an equity standpoint, these effects appear to be entirely driven by achievement declines in schools that serve higher proportions of racial minority and socioeconomically disadvantaged students. Finally, results from supplementary analyses suggest that these deleterious effects faded out in subsequent years.

download in pdf format
   (337 K)

email paper

The NBER Bulletin on Aging and Health provides summaries of publications like this.  You can sign up to receive the NBER Bulletin on Aging and Health by email.

Machine-readable bibliographic record - MARC, RIS, BibTeX

Document Object Identifier (DOI): 10.3386/w21055

Users who downloaded this paper also downloaded* these:
Katz w5679 Wage Subsidies for the Disadvantaged
Kennan w21065 Spatial Variation in Higher Education Financing and the Supply of College Graduates
Cesur, Tekin, and Ulker w18736 Air Pollution and Infant Mortality: Evidence from the Expansion of Natural Gas Infrastructure
Gelber, Isen, and Kessler w20810 The Effects of Youth Employment: Evidence from New York City Summer Youth Employment Program Lotteries
Iyengar w13784 I'd rather be Hanged for a Sheep than a Lamb: The Unintended Consequences of 'Three-Strikes' Laws
NBER Videos

National Bureau of Economic Research, 1050 Massachusetts Ave., Cambridge, MA 02138; 617-868-3900; email:

Contact Us