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Inequality

Margot Jackson, Tate Kihara.

Educational inequality in the health of U.S. children—what social scientists refer to as the “educational gradient” in health—is present at birth for virtually every marker of health, and increases throughout childhood.   However, a puzzling contradiction to this pattern has been observed among the growing population of youth in immigrant families.  Some evidence suggests an ambiguous relationship between education and health among immigrant families, with a flat relationship between maternal education and maternal health behaviors and children’s birth outcomes, and a stronger relationship as children become adolescents.  Does an educational gradient in health emerge among children in immigrant families during childhood and adolescence?  To date, we lack a prospective examination of how the gradient changes from birth throughout childhood and adolescence among this population.  Moreover, while the dominant explanation for a weaker gradient among children with immigrant parents centers on the family setting, we know little about family-level dynamics among the same immigrant families as children age.  Using national, longitudinal data from the Fragile Families and Child Well-Being Study, we examine the association between maternal education and children’s health (measured by mothers’ ratings) over the early life course (birth through age 15) among children of immigrants and children of native-born parents, and consider whether changes in children’s economic status and family composition contribute to the educational gradient, or lack thereof, in child health.  Analyses reveal that: (1) maternal education is strongly predictive of health, even among children of immigrants; (2) immigrant status does not appear to be protective for health within educational groups, as evidenced by poorer health among children of immigrants whose mothers have the lowest level of education, as compared to children of natives; (3) children in the least-educated immigrant families are experiencing better health trajectories as they age than children in similar native-born families; and (4) accounting for economic conditions and family composition does not reduce the size of the gradient over time. 

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Emily Rauscher.

Educational assortative mating patterns in the U.S. have changed since the 1960s, but we know little about the effects of these patterns on children, particularly on infant health.  Rising educational homogamy may alter prenatal contexts through parental stress and resources, with implications for inequality. Using 1969-1994 NVSS birth data and aggregate cohort-state census measures of spousal similarity of education and labor force participation as instrumental variables (IV), this study estimates effects of parental educational similarity on infant health.  Controlling for both maternal and paternal education, results support family systems theory and suggest that parental educational homogamy is beneficial for infant health while hypergamy is detrimental.  These effects are stronger in later cohorts and are generally limited to mothers with more education.  Hypogamy estimates are stable by cohort, suggesting that rising female hypogamy may have limited effect on infant health.  In contrast, rising educational homogamy could have increasing implications for infant health.  Effects of parental homogamy on infant health could help explain racial inequality of infant health and may offer a potential mechanism through which inequality is transmitted between generations.

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Emily Rauscher.

Contradictory evidence of the relationship between education funding and student achievement could reflect heterogeneous effects by revenue source or student characteristics. This study examines potential heterogeneous effects of a particular type of local revenue – bond funds for capital investments – on achievement by socioeconomic status. Comparing California school districts within a narrow window on either side of the cutoff of voter support required to pass a general obligation bond measure, this study uses dynamic regression discontinuity models to estimate effects of passing a bond on academic achievement among low- and high-SES students. Results consistently suggest that passing a bond measure increases achievement among low- but not high-SES students. However, these benefits for low-SES students are delayed and emerge 6 years after an election.

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Seth Gershenson, Cassandra M. D. Hart, Joshua Hyman, Constance Lindsay, Nicholas W. Papageorge.

We examine the long-run impacts of having a same-race teacher. First, we leverage data from the Tennessee STAR class-size experiment to show that black students randomly assigned to a black teacher in grades K-3 are 5 percentage points (7%) more likely to graduate from high school and 4 percentage points (13%) more likely to enroll in college than their same-school, same-race peers not assigned to a black teacher. Second, we replicate these results in North Carolina using quasi-experimental methods. Finally, we formally define "role model effects" as information provision, which facilitates an exploration of possible mechanisms that drive these results.

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Joshua Hyman.

I conduct a statewide experiment in Michigan with nearly 50,000 high-achieving high school seniors. Treated students are mailed a letter encouraging them to consider college and providing them with the web address of a college information website. I find that very high-achieving, low-income students, and very high-achieving, minority students are the most likely to navigate to the website. Small changes to letter content affect take-up. For example, highlighting college affordability induces 18 percent more students to the website than highlighting college choice, and 37 percent more than highlighting how to apply to college. I find a statistically precise zero impact on college enrollment among all students mailed the letter. However, low-income students experience a small increase in the probability that they enroll in college, driven by increases at four-year institutions. An examination of persistence through college, while imprecise, suggests that the students induced into college by the intervention persist at a lower rate than the inframarginal student.

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Joshua Goodman, Oded Gurantz, Jonathan Smith.

Only half of SAT-takers retake the exam, with even lower retake rates among low income and underrepresented minority (URM) students. We exploit discontinuous jumps in retake probabilities at multiples of 100, driven by left-digit bias, to estimate retaking’s causal effects. Retaking substantially improves SAT scores and increases four-year college enrollment rates, particularly for low income and URM students. Eliminating disparities in retake rates could close up to 10 percent of the income-based gap and up to seven percent of the race-based gap in four-year college enrollment rates of high school graduates.

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Katherine A Key, Tim R. Sass.

We investigate the determinants of high school completion and college attendance, the likelihood of taking science, technology, engineering or math (STEM) courses in the first year of college and the probability of earning a degree in a STEM field.  The focus is on women, who tend to be under-represented in STEM fields.  Tracking four cohorts of students throughout Florida, women perform nearly as well as men on math achievement tests through high school and are more likely to finish high school and attend college than males.  Among college students, however, women are less likely than are men to take courses in the physical sciences in their first year and are less likely to earn a degree in physics or engineering, even after adjusting for pre-college test scores.  Gender matching of students and math/science teachers in middle and high school tends to increase the likelihood that female college freshman will take at least one STEM course.  However, conditional on first-year coursework, neither gender matching at the secondary or college levels appears to have any effect on the likelihood of completing a major in a STEM field.  For all students, having high school math and physics teachers with a degree in math or physics, respectively, (as opposed to education) is associated with a higher likelihood of taking STEM courses as college freshmen. 

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Joshua Goodman, Michael Hurwitz, Jisung Park, Jonathan Smith.

We demonstrate that heat inhibits learning and that school air-conditioning may mitigate this effect. Student fixed effects models using 10 million PSAT-retakers show hotter school days in years before the test reduce scores, with extreme heat being particularly damaging. Weekend and summer temperature has little impact, suggesting heat directly disrupts learning time. New nationwide, school-level measures of air-conditioning penetration suggest patterns consistent with such infrastructure largely offsetting heat’s effects. Without air-conditioning, a 1°F hotter school year reduces that year’s learning by one percent. Hot school days disproportionately impact minority students, accounting for roughly five percent of the racial achievement gap.

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Cory Koedel, Eric Parsons.

Free and reduced-price meal (FRM) data are used ubiquitously to proxy for student disadvantage in education research and policy applications. The Community Eligibility Provision (CEP)—a recently-implemented policy change to the federally-administered National School Lunch Program—allows schools serving low-income populations to identify all students as FRM-eligible regardless of individual circumstances. We study the CEP’s effect on FRM eligibility as a proxy for student disadvantage, and relatedly, we examine the viability of direct certification (DC) status as an alternative disadvantage measure. Our findings on whether the CEP degrades the informational content of FRM data are mixed. At the individual level there is essentially no effect, but the CEP does meaningfully change the information conveyed by the FRM-eligible share of students in a school. Our comparison of FRM and DC data in the post-CEP era shows that these measures are similarly informative as proxies for disadvantage, despite the CEP-induced information loss in FRM data. Using both measures together can improve the identification of disadvantaged students, but only marginally.

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Eric Brunner, Joshua Hyman, Andrew Ju.

School finance reforms caused some of the most dramatic increases in intergovernmental aid from states to local governments in U.S. history. We examine whether teachers’ unions affected the fraction of reform-induced state aid that passed through to local spending and the allocation of these funds. Districts with strong teachers’ unions increased spending nearly dollar-for-dollar with state aid, and spent the funds primarily on teacher compensation. Districts with weak unions used aid primarily for property tax relief, and spent remaining funds on hiring new teachers. The greater expenditure increases in strong union districts led to larger increases in student achievement.

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