Paul Peterson

Institution: Harvard University

Paul Peterson is the Henry Lee Shattuck Professor of Government in the Department of Government at Harvard University. He directs the Harvard Program on Education Policy and Governance, is a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University, and is senior editor of Education Next. He received his Ph.D. in political science from the University of Chicago. A member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and the National Academy of Education, he is the author or editor of over 30 books, four of which have been identified as the best work in their field by the American Political Science Association.


Paul E. Peterson, Angela K. Dills, M. Danish Shakeel.

Chetty et al. (2022) say county density of cross-class friendships (referred to here as “adult-bridging capital”) has causal impacts on social mobility within the United States. We instead find that social mobility rates are a function of county density of family capital (higher marriage rates and two-person households), community capital (community organizations, religious congregations, and volunteering), and mean student achievement in grades 3-8. Our models use similar multiple regression equations and the same variables employed by Chetty et al. but also include state fixed effects, student achievement, and family, community, school-bridging (cross-class high school friendships), and political (participation and institutional trust) capital. School-bridging capital is weakly correlated with mobility if adult-bridging is excluded from the model. R-squared barely changes when adult-bridging is incorporated into the model. When it is included, mobility continues to be significantly correlated with the achievement, family, and community variables but not with school-bridging and political ones. We infer that county mobility rates are largely shaped by parental presence, community life, and student achievement. To enhance mobility, public policy needs to enhance the lives of disadvantaged people at home, in school, and in communities, not just the social class of their friendships.  

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Benjamin W. Arold, M. Danish Shakeel.

From 2010 onwards, most US states have aligned their education standards by adopting the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) for math and English Language Arts. The CCSS did not target other subjects such as science and social studies. We estimate spillovers of the CCSS on student achievement in non-targeted subjects in models with state and year fixed effects. Using student achievement data from the NAEP, we show that the CCSS had a negative effect on student achievement in non-targeted subjects. This negative effect is largest for underprivileged students, exacerbating racial and socioeconomic student achievement gaps. Using teacher surveys, we show that the CCSS caused a reduction in instructional focus on nontargeted subjects.

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M. Danish Shakeel, Paul E. Peterson.

Scholars differ as to whether populist beliefs are a discourse or an ideology resembling conservatism or liberalism. Research has shown that a belief in popular sovereignty and a distrust of public officials are core components of populism. Its antithesis is defined as Burke’s claim that officials should exercise their own judgment rather than pander to the public. A national probability sample of U. S. adults is asked to respond to six items that form a populist scale, rank themselves on a conservative-liberal scale, and state their views on education issues. The two scales are only moderately correlated, and each is independently correlated with many opinions about contemporary issues. Populism has a degree of coherence that approximates but does not match that of the conservative-liberal dimension.

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Carlos X. Lastra-Anadón, Paul E. Peterson.
The efficiency-equity trade-offs in public service delivery may be influenced by the dependency of local governments on their own resources rather than inter-governmental grants. School districts in the United States are expected both to produce human capital efficiently and to provide educational opportunity equally. To ascertain school district trade-offs, we estimate effects of revenue source on student performances in math and reading. Achievement is estimated from 225,000 observations weighted to be district representative. Estimates are made with OLS, geographic discontinuity models exploiting differences at state borders, and 2SLS models that use changes in housing prices as an instrument. For every 10 percent increase in local revenue share, achievement increases by a sizeable 0.02 to 0.06 standard deviations. Gains for students from low socio-economic backgrounds are about half those from higher ones. Both voice and exit channels moderate the efficiency-equity trade-off. Implications for federalism and state policy are discussed.

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Albert Cheng, Matthew M. Chingos, Paul E. Peterson.

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.

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