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Markets (vouchers, choice, for-profits, vendors)

Yujie Sude, Patrick J. Wolf.

Private school choice policies have been enacted and expanded across the United States since the 1990s. By January 2021, 30 states plus the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico hosted 67 distinct private school choice policies. Why have some states adopted and expanded this education reform while others have demurred? Which states are more likely to adopt specific types of private school choice initiatives in the coming years? We present the results of an exploratory empirical analysis examining which state-level political, economic, and educational factors predict past policy decisions regarding the enactment and expansion of private school choice in 49 states from 2000 to 2016. The results from our most preferred statistical model further predict which states are more and less likely to take action towards such policies in subsequent years. The political factors involving Republican control of the governorship and legislature, prevalence of minority students in the K-12 population, and share of private school enrollment in the state prove to be highly predictive factors in school choice adoption. The economic factor of a comparatively low state per-capita GDP also consistently predicts school choice policy adoption in our models.

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David M. Houston, Jeffrey R. Henig.

We examine the effects of disseminating academic performance data—either status, growth, or both—on parents’ school choices and their implications for racial, ethnic, and economic segregation. We conduct an online survey experiment featuring a nationally representative sample of parents and caretakers of children age 0-12. Participants choose between three randomly sampled elementary schools drawn from the same school district. Only growth information—alone and not in concert with status information—has clear and consistent desegregating consequences. Because states that include growth in their school accountability systems have generally done so as a supplement to and not a replacement for status, there is little reason to expect that this development will influence choice behavior in a manner that meaningfully reduces school segregation.

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Alex Eble, Feng Hu.

Hundreds of colleges have changed their names to signal higher quality. We estimate how this affects college choice and the labor market performance of college graduates. Administrative data show that name-changing colleges enroll higher-aptitude students, with larger effects for attractive-but-misleading name changes and among students with less information. A resume audit study shows that employer callbacks respond to the increased aptitude of recruited students at these colleges. We broaden these results using scraped online text data, survey data, and other administrative data. Our study demonstrates that signals designed to change beliefs can have real, lasting impacts on market outcomes.

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Sarah R. Cohodes, James J. Feigenbaum.

In the United States, people with more education vote more. But, we know little about why education increases political participation or whether higher-quality education increases civic participation. We study applicants to Boston charter schools, using school lotteries to estimate charter attendance impacts for academic and voting outcomes. First, we confirm large academic gains for students in the sample of charter schools and cohorts investigated here. Second, we find that charter attendance boosts voter participation. Voting in the first presidential election after a student turns 18 increased substantially, by six percentage points from a base of 35 percent. The voting effect is driven entirely by girls and there is no increase in voter registration. Rich data and the differential effects by gender enable exploration of multiple potential channels for the voting impact. We find evidence consistent with two mechanisms: charter schools increase voting by increasing students’ noncognitive skills and by politicizing families who participate in charter school education.

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Tareena Musaddiq, Kevin Stange, Andrew Bacher-Hicks, Joshua Goodman.

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, we show how the pandemic affected families’ choices of school sector. We 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. Our 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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Plamen Nikolov, Steve Yeh.

Cognition, a component of human capital, is fundamental for decision-making, and understanding the causes of human capital depreciation in old age is especially important in aging societies. Using various proxy measures of cognitive performance from a longitudinal survey in South Africa, we study how education affects cognition in late adulthood. We show that an extra year of schooling improves memory performance and general cognition. We find evidence of heterogeneous effects by gender: the effects are stronger among women. We explore potential mechanisms, and we show that a more supportive social environment, improved health habits, and reduced stress levels likely play a critical role in mediating the beneficial effects of educational attainment on cognition among the elderly.

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Ying Shi, John D. Singleton.

We examine the causal influence of educators elected to the school board on local education production. The key empirical challenge is that school board composition is endogenously determined through the electoral process. To overcome this, we develop a novel research design that leverages California's randomized assignment of the order that candidate names appear on election ballots. We find that an additional educator elected to the school board reduces charter schooling and increases teacher salaries in the school district relative to other board members. We interpret these findings as consistent with educator board members shifting bargaining in favor of teachers' unions.

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Emily Gutierrez.

Over the last decade, more and more schools have adopted Universal Free Meals (UFM), a program that provides meals free of charge to all students, regardless of household income. Recent research finds UFM increases participation in school meals, improves test scores, and reduces incidences of bad behavior. Additionally, advocates cite stigma reduction as one of UFM’s many benefits, but to date, scholars have yet to provide empirical evidence of this claim. This paper fills the gap in the literature by being the first to examine whether UFM influences student perceptions of school climate. I use individual, student survey responses and school meal participation data from New York City Department of Education (NYCDOE) to investigate whether and to what extent UFM changes participation behavior and student perceptions of their school climate. Using a difference-in-differences design, I exploit students’ staggered exposure to UFM, among those that are ever exposed, to investigate if UFM influences participation and improves student perceptions of bullying, fighting, respect, and safety. I find UFM increases school lunch participation among students that were previously eligible for free meals but rarely participated, suggesting that UFM affects participation patterns beyond simply reducing the price of food. All students, regardless of socioeconomic status, report reductions in perceptions of bullying and fighting within school, as well as improvements in perceptions of safety outside of school. Notably, students ever designated as eligible for free/reduced price meals and those that ate school lunches last year report feeling safer inside the school cafeteria. Thus, not only does UFM improve perceptions associated with stigma for students who directly interact with UFM, but the program also has positive effects for all students regardless of their socioeconomic status.

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Michelle L. Lofton, Martin F. Lueken.

Education savings accounts (ESAs) are education funding mechanisms that allow for families to receive a deposit of public funds to a government-authorized savings account. Using student-level longitudinal data, this paper examines how families participating in the Florida Gardiner Scholarship Program use education savings account funds. Results indicate that families use an increasing proportion of ESA funds the longer students remain in the program. The longer students remain in the program, the share of ESA funds devoted to private school tuition decreases while expenditure shares increase for curriculum, instruction, tutoring, and specialized services. Students in rural areas not only use a greater portion of their ESA funds than families in urban and suburban areas, but they also spend smaller portions of their funds on tuition and appear to customize more.

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Riley Acton.

In the competitive U.S. higher education market, institutions differentiate themselves to attract both students and tuition dollars. One understudied example of this differentiation is the increasing trend of "colleges" becoming "universities" by changing their names. Leveraging variation in the timing of such conversions in an event study framework, I show that becoming a university increases enrollments at both the undergraduate and graduate levels, which leads to an increase in degree production and total revenues. I further find that these effects are largest when institutions are the first in their market to convert to a university and can lead to negative spillover effects on non-converting colleges.

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