When academic effort or investment is observable to peers, students may act to avoid social penalties or gain social favor (i.e., "peer pressure") by conforming to prevailing norms. To test this hypothesis, Jensen and Bursztyn conducted an experiment in Los Angeles high schools in which 11th grade students were offered complimentary access to a commercial, online SAT preparatory course from a well-known test company. Sign up sheets differed randomly across students (within classrooms) only in the extent to which they emphasized that the decision to enroll would be kept private from their classmates. The researchers find that whether choices are believed to be observable to others has dramatic effects on sign up rates. Further, the effects depend greatly on the setting or prevailing peer group norm. In non-honors classes, the sign up rate was 11 percentage points lower when decisions to enroll were to be public rather than private. But sign up in honors classes was unaffected. Since the differential response in the two types of classes could be driven by differences across students in honors and non-honors classes, to further test for the effects of peer pressure the authors examine students taking the same number of honors classes (e.g., the set of students taking exactly two honors classes). For these students, it is essentially random whether the researchers' team arrived and offered them the course during a period in which they were in class with their honors peers or their non-honors peers. When offered the course in their non-honors class, these students were 25 percentage points less likely to sign up if the decision was public. But if they were offered the course in one of their honors classes, they were 25 percentage points more likely to sign up when the decision was public. These results show that students are highly responsive to who their peers are and what the prevailing norm is when they make decisions. These results also allow the authors to isolate peer social concerns from other peer effect mechanisms, since they changed nothing about a student's actual set of peers (or their teachers, classroom or school), only those peers actually present when decisions were made and thus to whom the choice would potentially be reveal.
When Estimating Group Treatment Effects: the Case of School and Neighborhood Effects
Lottery estimates suggest oversubscribed charter schools boost student achievement in urban districts. But these estimates needn't capture treatment effects for students who haven't applied to charter schools or for students attending charters where demand is weak. This paper reports estimates of the effect of charter school attendance on middle-schoolers in charter takeovers in New Orleans and Boston. Takeovers are traditional public schools that close and then re-open as charter schools. Students enrolled in the schools designated for closure are eligible for "grandfathering" into the new schools; that is, they are guaranteed seats. Abdulkadiroğlu, Angrist, Hull, and Pathak use this fact to construct instrumental variables estimates of the effects of passive charter attendance: the grandfathering instrument compares students at schools designated for takeover with students who appear similar at baseline and who were attending similar schools not yet closed, while adjusting for possible violations of the exclusion restriction in such comparisons. Estimates for a large sample of takeover schools in the New Orleans Recovery School District show impressive gains. In Boston, where the researchers can compare takeover and lottery estimates, takeover charters generate achievement gains as large or larger than the gains for students assigned seats in lotteries.
This paper studies the long-run impact of a court-ordered desegregation ruling on education outcomes. This ruling mandates that seven school districts, which serve higher-income, predominantly-white families, accept a fixed number of minority elementary school students each year who apply to transfer from a nearby, predominantly minority school district. The fixed number of slots are allocated to families via lottery. The offer to transfer increases the number of students who enroll in college by 7 percentage points. This result is driven by greater attendance to two-year and public colleges, though there are substantial heterogeneous effects. A secondary analysis provides suggestive evidence that peer enrollment matters. Increases in the share of Black or Hispanic students who receive an offer to transfer impacts the likelihood of college attendance among other students who receive the same offer.
A large-scale government program in Colombia used a lottery to distribute scholarships for private secondary school to socially disadvantaged students. Based on administrative data up to seventeen years after the scholarship lottery, Bettinger, Kremer, Kugler, Medina, Posso, and Saavedra document that lottery winners are less likely to repeat grades, more likely to graduate from secondary school on time or ever, and more likely to start and complete tertiary education. Scholarships reduce teen fertility, although there is no significant effect on overall fertility at age 30. Among males, there is some evidence (significant at the 10% level) that winners are less likely to qualify for Colombia's conditional cash transfer program. Point estimates suggest that total formal sector earnings at age 30 are 8 percent greater for lottery winners, a difference that is significant at the 7% level. Impacts on estimated future earnings, including imputed values for those currently in tertiary education suggest a 9.3 percent difference that is significant at the 5% level. Preliminary analyses suggest the expected net present value of increased net tax receipts due to the program exceed the program's fiscal cost, and the program is welfare improving as long as externalities on non-recipients are positive, zero, or negative but less than $1,100 per scholarship recipient.
West, Kraft, Finn, Martin, Duckworth, Gabrieli, and Gabrieli use self-report surveys to gather information on a broad set of non-cognitive skills from 1,368 8th-grade students attending Boston public schools and linked this information to administrative data on their demographics and test scores. At the student level, scales measuring conscientiousness, self-control, grit, and growth mindset are positively correlated with attendance, behavior, and test-score gains between 4th- and 8th-grade. Conscientiousness, self-control, and grit are unrelated to test-score gains at the school level, however, and students attending over-subscribed charter schools with higher average test-score gains score lower on these scales than do students attending district schools. Exploiting charter school admissions lotteries, the researchers replicate previous findings indicating positive impacts of charter school attendance on math achievement but find negative impacts on these non-cognitive skills. The authors provide suggestive evidence that these paradoxical results are driven by reference bias, or the tendency for survey responses to be influenced by social context. The results therefore highlight the importance of improved measurement of non-cognitive skills in order to capitalize on their promise as a tool to inform education practice and policy.
Using a new dataset constructed from nonprofit tax-returns, this paper explores how several recent large-scale choice programs in the U.S. affected the fiscal health of private schools and the accessibility of a private education. Hungerman and Rinz find that school choice programs created a large transfer of public funding to private schools, suggesting that every dollar of funding raised revenue by a dollar or more. Turning to the incidence of school choice and the impact of choice on enrollment, they find that the effects of choice depended crucially on the type of program introduced, with programs based on corporate tax credits creating relatively large enrollment gains and small price increases. The researchers compare results for religious and secular schools, calculate elasticities of demand and supply for private schools, and discuss welfare effects. Back-of-the-envelope calculations suggest that the deadweight loss created by school choice programs is reasonably small: about 5 cents for every dollar of funding.
In this paper, Murphy and Weinhardt examine the long-run impact of ordinal rank during primary school on productivity using comprehensive English administrative data. Identification is obtained from variation in test score distributions across cohorts and subjects, such that the same score relative to the school mean can have different ranks. Conditional on cardinal measures of achievement, being ranked highly during primary school has large effects on secondary school achievement, with the impact of rank being more important for boys than girls. Using additional survey data the authors find that the development of confidence is the most likely mechanisms for this effect on task-specific productivity.
In addition to the conference paper, the research was distributed as NBER Working Paper w24958, which may be a more recent version.
While existing research supports that participation in high school athletics is associated with better education and labour-market outcomes, the mechanisms through which these benefits accrue are not well established. Bignell, Cuffe, and Waddell use data from a large public-school district to retrieve an estimate of the causal effect of high school athletic participation on absenteeism. They show that active competition decreases absences, with most of the effect driven by reductions in unexcused absence--truancy among active male athletes declines significantly, with the effects larger in earlier grades and for black and Hispanic boys. Strong game-day effects are also evident, in both boys and girls, as truancy declines on game days are offset with higher rates of absenteeism the following day. Addressing the effects on academic performance, the researchers find significant heterogeneity in the response to active athletic participation by race, gender and family structure, with boys not in dual-parent households exhibiting modest improvements in semesters in which they experience greater athletic participation.
In this paper, Bergman studies the long-run impact of a court-ordered desegregation ruling on education outcomes. This ruling mandates that seven school districts, which serve higher-income, predominantly-white families, accept a fixed number of minority elementary school students each year who apply to transfer from a nearby, predominantly minority school district. The fixed number of slots are allocated to families via lottery. The offer to transfer increases the number of students who enroll in college by 7 percentage points. This result is driven by greater attendance to two-year and public colleges, though there are substantial heterogeneous effects. A secondary analysis provides suggestive evidence that peer enrollment matters. Increases in the share of Hispanic students who receive an offer to transfer impacts the likelihood of college attendance among other students who receive the same offer.