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Methodology, measurement and data

Susana Claro, Valentina Paredes, Verónica Cabezas, Gabriel Cruz.

Growing evidence shows that a student's growth mindset (the belief that intelligence is malleable) can benefit their academic achievement. However, due to limited information, little is known about how a teachers’ growth mindset affects their students’ academic achievement. In this paper, we study the impact of teacher growth mindset on academic achievement for a nationwide sample of 8th and 10th grade students in Chile in 2017. Using a student fixed effect model that exploits data from two subject teachers for each student, we find that being assigned to a teacher with a growth mindset increases standardized test scores by approximately 0.02 standard deviations, with larger effects on students with high GPAs and particularly on students in low socioeconomic schools.

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Brendan Bartanen, Aliza N. Husain.

A growing literature uses value-added (VA) models to quantify principals' contributions to improving student outcomes. Principal VA is typically estimated using a connected networks model that includes both principal and school fixed effects (FE) to isolate principal effectiveness from fixed school factors that principals cannot control. While conceptually appealing, high-dimensional FE regression models require sufficient variation to produce accurate VA estimates. Using simulation methods applied to administrative data from Tennessee and New York City, we show that limited mobility of principals among schools yields connected networks that are extremely sparse, where VA estimates are either highly localized or statistically unreliable. Employing a random effects shrinkage estimator, however, can alleviate estimation error to increase the reliability of principal VA.

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Lina Anaya, Nagore Iriberri, Pedro Rey-Biel, Gema Zamarro.

Standardized assessments are widely used to determine access to educational resources with important consequences for later economic outcomes in life. However, many design features of the tests themselves may lead to psychological reactions influencing performance. In particular, the level of difficulty of the earlier questions in a test may affect performance in later questions. How should we order test questions according to their level of difficulty such that test performance offers an accurate assessment of the test taker's aptitudes and knowledge? We conduct a field experiment with about 19,000 participants in collaboration with an online teaching platform where we randomly assign participants to different orders of difficulty and we find that ordering the questions from easiest to most difficult yields the lowest probability to abandon the test, as well as the highest number of correct answers. Consistent results are found exploiting the random variation of difficulty across test booklets in the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA), a triannual international test, for the years of 2009, 2012, and 2015, providing additional external validity. We conclude that the order of the difficulty of the questions in tests should be considered carefully, in particular when comparing performance between test-takers who have faced different order of questions.

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Jeffrey T. Denning, Eric R. Eide, Kevin J. Mumford, Daniel Sabey.

After increasing in the 1970s and 1980s, time to bachelor’s degree has declined since the 1990s. We document this fact using data from three nationally representative surveys. We show that this pattern is occurring across school types and for all student types. Using administrative student records from 11 large universities, we confirm the finding and show that it is robust to alternative sample definitions. We discuss what might explain the decline in time to bachelor’s degree by considering trends in student preparation, state funding, student enrollment, study time, and student employment during college.

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M. Danish Shakeel, Paul E. Peterson.

Principals (policy makers) have debated the progress in U. S. student performance for a half century or more. Informing these conversations, survey agents have administered seven million psychometrically linked tests in math and reading in 160 waves to national probability samples of selected cohorts born between 1954 and 2007. This study is the first to assess consistency of results by agency. We find results vary by agent, but consistent with Flynn effects, gains are larger in math than reading, except for the most recent period. Non-whites progress at a faster pace. Socio-economically disadvantaged white, black, and Hispanic students make greater progress when tested in elementary school, but that advantage attenuates and reverses itself as students age. We discuss potential moderators.

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Gregory Gilpin, Ezra Karger, Peter Nencka.

Local governments spend over 12 billion dollars annually funding the operation of 15,000 public libraries in the United States. This funding supports widespread library use: more than 50% of Americans visit public libraries each year. But despite extensive public investment in libraries, surprisingly little research quantifies the effects of public libraries on communities and children. We use data on the near-universe of U.S. public libraries to study the effects of capital spending shocks on library resources, patron usage, student achievement, and local housing prices. We use a dynamic difference-in-difference approach to show that library capital investment increases children’s attendance at library events by 18%, children’s checkouts of items by 21%, and total library visits by 21%. Increases in library use translate into improved children’s test scores in nearby school districts: a $1,000 or greater per-student capital investment in local public libraries increases reading test scores by 0.02 standard deviations and has no effects on math test scores. Housing prices do not change after a sharp increase in public library capital investment, suggesting that residents internalize the increased cost and improved quality of their public libraries.

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Jennifer Graves, Zoe Kuehn.

Using individual data from PIAAC and aggregate data on GDP and unemployment for the US, Europe, and Spain, we test how macroeconomic conditions experienced at age eighteen affect the following decisions in post-secondary and tertiary education: i) enrollment ii) dropping-out, iii) type of degree completed, iv) area of specialization, and v) time-to-degree. We also analyze how the effects differ by gender and parental background. Our findings are different for each of these geographies, which shows that the impacts of macroeconomic conditions on higher education decisions depend on context, such as labor markets and education systems. By analyzing various components of higher education together, we are able to obtain a clearer picture of how potential mechanisms linked to lower opportunity costs of education and reduced ability to pay during economic downturns interact to determine student selection.

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Matthew Baird, Robert Bozick, Melanie Zaber.

Occupational credentials provide an additional—and, at times, alternative—path other than traditional academic degrees for individuals to increase productivity and demonstrate their abilities and qualifications to employers. These credentials take the form of licenses and certifications. Although a critical part of the workforce landscape, the literature on the returns to credentials is inadequate, with prior research having limited causal identification, typically relying on OLS regressions which do not sufficiently control for selection. Using questions that identify credential receipt from the 2015 and 2016 Current Population Surveys, we construct an instrumental variable of local peer influence using the within-labor market credential rate of individuals sharing the same sociodemographic characteristics, while controlling for the same group’s average wages and a suite of demographic and geographic controls. We use this instrument in a marginal treatment effects estimator, which allows for estimation of the average treatment effect and determines the direction of selection, and we estimate the effects of credentials on labor market outcomes. We find large, meaningful returns in the form of increased employment, an effect which is concentrated primarily among women. The effect of having a credential on log wages is higher for those in the sub-baccalaureate labor market, suggesting the potential role of occupational credentials as an alternative path to marketable human capital and a signal of skills in the absence of a bachelor’s degree.

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James D. Paul, Albert Cheng, Jay P. Greene, Josh B. McGee.

Employers may favor applicants who played college sports if athletics participation contributes to leadership, conscientiousness, discipline, and other traits that are desirable for labor-market productivity. We conduct a resume audit to estimate the causal effect of listing collegiate athletics on employer callbacks and test for subgroup effects by ethnicity, gender, and sport type. We applied to more than 450 jobs on a large, well-known job board. For each job listing we submitted two fictitious resumes, one of which was randomly assigned to include collegiate varsity athletics. Overall, listing a college sport does not produce a statistically significant change in the likelihood of receiving a callback or interview request. However, among non-white applicants, athletes are 3.2 percentage points less likely to receive an interview request (p = .04) relative to non-athletes. We find no statistically significant differences among males or females.

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Matthew D. Baird, John Engberg, Isaac M. Opper.

We consider the case in which the number of seats in a program is limited, such as a job training program or a supplemental tutoring program, and explore the implications that peer effects have for which individuals should be assigned to the limited seats. In the frequently-studied case in which all applicants are assigned to a group, the average outcome is not changed by shuffling the group assignments if the peer effect is linear in the average composition of peers. However, when there are fewer seats than applicants, the presence of linear-in-means peer effects can dramatically influence the optimal choice of who gets to participate. We illustrate how peer effects impact optimal seat assignment, first under a general social planner utility function and then from both an efficiency and an equity perspective. We next use data from a recent job training RCT to provide the first evidence of large peer effects in the context of job training for disadvantaged adults. Finally, we combine the two results to show that the program's effectiveness varies greatly depending on whether the assignment choices account for or ignore peer effects. 

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