- Paul E. Peterson
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Paul E. Peterson
Four agencies have estimated progress in U. S. student achievement by administering waves of psychometrically linked tests in math and reading to nationally representative samples of students for selected periods over the past half century. Observed agency effects are attributed to differences in purpose, test design and sampling frame. Nonetheless, evidence across surveys from eleven million observations shows achievement gains consistent with the Flynn hypothesis that intelligence is rising. Gains are less steep in reading than math, though math increments may be diminishing. Greater progress is observed for students who are younger, non-white, and from low socio-economic backgrounds. Results are consistent with causal explanations that emphasize early-in-life improvements in nutrition, health care, and protection from contagious diseases and environmental risks.
States and districts are increasingly incorporating measures of achievement growth into their school accountability systems, but there is little research on how these changes affect the public’s perceptions of school quality. We conduct a nationally representative online survey experiment to identify the effects of providing participants with information about their local school districts’ average achievement status and/or average achievement growth. In the control group, participants who live in higher status districts tend to grade their local schools more favorably. The provision of status information does not fundamentally alter this relationship. The provision of growth information, however, reshapes Americans’ views about educational performance. Once informed, participants’ evaluations of their local public schools better reflect the variation in district growth.
Although qualitative research suggests that school choice and other interventions are more beneficial for moderately disadvantaged than severely deprived students, the subject has barely been explored by quantitative studies with either observational or experimental designs. We estimate experimentally the impact of a voucher offer on college attainment of poor minority students by household income and parental education. Estimates are obtained from a 1997 private, lottery-based voucher intervention in New York City. National Student Clearinghouse provided 2017 postsecondary outcomes. Positive impacts on moderately disadvantaged students do not extend to the severely deprived.
Rising inequality in the United States has raised concerns about potentially widening gaps in educational achievement by socio-economic status (SES). Using assessments from LTT-NAEP, Main-NAEP, TIMSS, and PISA that are psychometrically linked over time, we trace trends in achievement for U.S. student cohorts born between 1954 and 2001. Achievement gaps between the top and bottom quartiles of the SES distribution have been large and remarkably constant for a near half century. These unwavering gaps have not been offset by improved achievement levels, which have risen at age 14 but have remained unchanged at age 17 for the past quarter century.
To estimate whether information can close socioeconomic gaps in parents’ aspirations for their child’s postsecondary education, we administer a four-armed survey experiment to a nationally representative sample of U.S. parents. After respondents estimate costs of and returns to further education, we ask whether they prefer that their child pursue a four-year degree, a two-year degree, or no further education. Before this question is posed, the treated are first told (1) the net annual costs of pursuing a four-year and two-year degree in their state, (2) the annual returns to four-year and two-year degrees as compared to no further education in their local area, or (3) both costs and returns. We find that information lowers aspirations overall and widens socioeconomic aspiration gaps. These effects do not vary with the magnitude of error between estimated and actual costs and returns. However, we find positive impacts on aspirations among parents who think their child is academically prepared for college.
Estimates of school voucher impacts on educational attainment have yet to explore heterogeneities in socioeconomic status among disadvantaged minority students. We theorize reasons for these heterogeneities and then estimate experimentally the differential impacts of voucher offers on college enrollment and graduation rates for minority and non-immigrant students from moderately and severely disadvantaged backgrounds. The findings are obtained from a privately sponsored, lottery-based voucher intervention in New York City that began in 1997. College enrollment and degree attainment as of the fall of 2017 were obtained from the National Student Clearinghouse. We find no significant effects of offers on minority students from severely disadvantaged backgrounds but significant effects of six to eight percentage points on those from moderately disadvantaged households. Similar results are obtained for students born of non-immigrant mothers. Some policy implications are discussed.