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Meritocracy and Its Discontents: Long-run Effects of Repeated School Admission Reforms
Author(s):
Mari Tanaka, Hitotsubashi University
Yusuke Narita, Yale University
Chiaki Moriguchi, Hitotsubashi University
Abstract:

Tanaka, Narita, and Moriguchi study the short-run and long-run impacts of changing admissions systems in higher education. Their research design takes advantage of the world’s first known implementation of nationally centralized meritocratic admissions and its subsequent reversals in the early twentieth century. Tanaka, Narita, and Moriguchi find a sharp tradeoff between meritocracy and equal regional access to higher education and career advancement. Specifically, in the short run, the meritocratic centralization led students to make more inter-regional and ambitious applications. As high-ability students were located disproportionately in urban areas, increased regional mobility caused urban applicants to crowd out rural applicants from elite higher education. Most importantly, the impacts were persistent. Four decades later, compared to the decentralized admissions, the meritocratic centralization increases the number of urban-born career elites (e.g., top income earners) relative to rural-born elites. For the whole country, the meritocratic centralization also increased the number of top-ranking bureaucrats relative to the decentralized system.

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Do More School Resources Increase Learning Outcomes? Evidence from an Extended School-day Reform
Author(s):
Jorge Aguero, University of Connecticut
Marta Favara, University of Oxford
Catherine Porter, Lancaster University
Alan Sanchez, GRADE
Abstract:

Whether allocating more resources improves learning outcomes for students in low-performing public schools remains an open debate. Aguero, Favara, Porter, and Sanchez focus on the effect of increasing instructional time, which is theoretically ambiguous due to possible compensating changes in effort by students, teachers, or parents. Using a regression discontinuity design, the researchers find that a reform extending the school day increases math test scores. It also improved reading, technical skills and socio-emotional competencies. Their results are partly explained by reductions in home production by students, specialization by teachers and investments in pedagogical assistance to teachers, in addition to the extended instructional time.

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(Mis)Information and the Value of College Names
Author(s):
Alex Eble, Columbia University
Feng Hu, University of Science and Technology Beijing
Abstract:

The quality of college education is hard for students and employers to observe. Knowing this, in the last 40 years over 1,000 colleges in the US and China alone have changed their names to signal higher quality. Eble and Hu study how these changes affect college choice and labor market performance of college graduates. Using administrative data, They show that colleges which change their names enroll higher-aptitude students and the effects persist over time. These effects are larger for attractive but misleading name changes, and larger among students with less information about the college. In a large resume audit study of the labor market for recent graduates, the researchers find a small, insignificant premium for applicants listing new college names in most jobs, but a penalty in low-pay, low-status jobs. To better understand these results, Eble and Hu analyze scraped online text data, survey data, and other administrative data. These show that while many college applicants lack important information about college quality, employers can see that college name changes lead to an increase in graduate aptitude. Their study demonstrates that signals designed to change perception can have real, lasting impacts on market outcomes.

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Progressivity of Pricing at US Public Universities
Author(s):
Emily E. Cook, Tulane University
Sarah Turner, University of Virginia and NBER
Abstract:

Substantial increases in public university tuition often raise concerns about college affordability. But assessment of the impacts on low- and moderate-income families requires consideration of whether net tuition--tuition less grant aid--has increased commensurately. This paper describes recent shifts in net tuition by family income and institution type and assesses the role of changes in state funding in generating these shifts. Using data reported by universities on net tuition paid by students from different family income levels, Cook and Turner find that public research universities have increasingly shifted to high-tuition, high-aid pricing. From 2012 to 2018, net tuition fell by far more than would have been predicted by the growth in state appropriations, while tuition levels continued to rise, albeit at a slower rate than in the prior years. The increased progressivity in pricing, particularly among research universities, cannot be explained by changes in state appropriations.

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Beliefs, Preferences, and Student Effort
Author(s):
John J. Conlon, Harvard University
Spencer Yongwook Kwon, Harvard University
William E. Murdock, Harvard University
Dev A. Patel, Harvard University
Abstract:

Growing evidence highlights the importance of effort in school and its causal impacts on academic outcomes. Conlon, Kwon, Murdock, and Patel examine the underlying determinants of students' time spent studying by eliciting the relevant preferences and beliefs for several thousand U.S. high school students. Equipped with these individual-level utility curves and studying-to-grade production functions, Conlon, Kwon, Murdock, and Patel flexibly solve for each pupil's expected study behavior. The predictions based on students' beliefs and preferences are strongly linked to their reported study habits. Counterfactual simulations show that differential preferences for receiving higher grades are the primary driver of gaps in studying rather than variation in perceived opportunity cost of study time or beliefs about the efficacy of studying.

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Neighborhood School Choice and Competition in Public Schools: Evidence from Los Angeles' Zones of Choice
Author(s):
Christopher Campos, Princeton University
Caitlin Kearns, University of California at Berkeley
Abstract:

This paper evaluates the Zones of Choice (ZOC) program in Los Angeles, a school choice initiative that created small high school markets in some neighborhoods but left traditional attendance zone boundaries in place throughout the rest of the district. Campos and Kearns study the impacts of the ZOC program on student achievement and college enrollment using a matched difference-in-differences design that compares changes in outcomes for ZOC schools and demographically similar non-ZOC schools. Their findings reveal that the ZOC program boosted student outcomes markedly, closing achievement and college enrollment gaps between ZOC neighborhoods and the rest of the district. These gains are explained by general improvements in school effectiveness rather than changes in student match quality, and school-specific gains are concentrated among the lowest-performing schools. The researchers interpret these findings through the lens of a model of school demand in which schools exert costly effort to improve quality. The model allows us to measure the increase in competition facing each ZOC school based on household preferences and the spatial distribution of schools. Campos and Kearns demonstrate that the effects of ZOC were larger for schools exposed to more competition, supporting the notion that competition is a key channel driving the impacts of ZOC. Demand estimates derived from rank-ordered preference lists suggest families place substantial weight on schools' academic quality, providing schools competitive incentives to improve their effectiveness. Their findings demonstrate the potential for public school choice to alter the quality of an important determinant of neighborhood quality, reduce neighborhood-based disparities in educational opportunity, and produce sustained improvements in student outcomes.

Is Busing Worth the Trip? School Travel Effects in Boston and New York
Author(s):
Joshua Angrist, Massachusetts Institute of Technology and NBER
Guthrie Gray-Lobe, University of Chicago
Clemence M. Idoux, Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Parag A. Pathak, Massachusetts Institute of Technology and NBER
Abstract:

School assignment in Boston and New York City came to national attention in the 1960s and 1970s in the wake of court-mandated desegregation. Today, district-wide choice allows Boston and New York students to enroll far from home, perhaps enhancing integration. Urban school transportation is costly, however, and the integration and education consequences of this expenditure unclear. Motivated by high transportation costs, Angrist, Gray-Lobe, Idoux, and Pathak estimate the causal effects of school distance and travel time on integration and human capital using an identification strategy that exploits the Boston and New York City school matches. Simulations of alternative assignment schemes suggest that a return to neighborhood schools is likely to modestly increase same-race exposure district-wide. Instrumental variables estimates show larger integration effects for those who currently choose to travel, but longer travel times have little or no effect on test scores and college attendance. Consistent with this, IV estimates of the effects of peer race directly fail to support the view that exposure to non-minority peers increases school quality for minority students. On balance, therefore, their results show little downside to school assignment policies that favor neighborhood enrollment.

The Pandemic's Effect on Demand For Public Schools, Homeschooling and Private Schools
Author(s):
Tareena Musaddiq, University of Michigan
Kevin M. Stange, University of Michigan and NBER
Andrew Bacher-Hicks, Boston University
Joshua Goodman, Boston University and NBER
Abstract:

The Covid-19 pandemic drastically disrupted the functioning of U.S. public schools, potentially changing the relative appeal of alternatives such as homeschooling and private schools. Using longitudinal student-level administrative data from Michigan and nationally representative data from the Census Household Pulse Survey, Musaddiq, Stange, Bacher-Hicks, and Goodman show how the pandemic affected families’ choices of school sector. The researchers document four central facts. First, public school enrollment declined noticeably in fall 2020, with about 3 percent of Michigan students and 10 percent of kindergartners using other options. Second, most of this was driven by homeschooling rates jumping substantially, driven largely by families with children in elementary school. Third, homeschooling increased more where schools provided in-person instruction while private schooling increased more where instruction was remote, suggesting heterogeneity in parental concerns about children’s physical health and instructional quality. Fourth, kindergarten declines were highest among low income and Black families while declines in other grades were highest among higher income and White families, highlighting important heterogeneity by students’ existing attachment to public schools. Their results shed light on how families make schooling decisions and imply potential longer-run disruptions to public schools in the form of decreased enrollment and funding, changed composition of the student body, and increased size of the next kindergarten cohort.

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Participants

Jorge Aguero, University of Connecticut
Tahir Andrabi, Pomona College
Michael D. Bates, University of California at Riverside
Christopher Campos, Princeton University
Marta Favara, University of Oxford
Rob Garlick, Duke University
Douglas N. Harris, Tulane University
Feng Hu, University of Science and Technology Beijing
David Johnson, Wilfrid Laurier University
Mike Kofoed, United States Military Academy at West Point
Matthew A. Kraft, Brown University
Priya Mukherjee, University of Wisconsin-Madison
William E. Murdock, Harvard University
Dev A. Patel, Harvard University
Catherine Porter, Lancaster University
Alan Sanchez, GRADE
Sheetal Sekhri, University of Virginia
Gauri Kartini Shastry, Wellesley College
Larry Singell, University of Texas at Austin
Samuel W. Stemper, Harvard University

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