Shaun M. Dougherty

Institution: Boston College

Dr. Dougherty’s research emphasizes the use of quantitative research methods to evaluate the impact of educational policies and programs. He emphasizes understanding how the requirements, incentives and behaviors that those policies produce develop human capital and promote equitable outcomes, with a particular focus on how family income, race, and disability status influence policy impact. Dr. Dougherty is a national expert on career and technical education, with additional expertise in accountability policy, and the application of regression discontinuity designs. His work has been published in leading journals and has been cited by major media outlets. He has received research funding from IES, the Smith Richardson Foundation, and the Institute for Research on Poverty, which also recognized him as an Early Career Scholar. In addition, he is a faculty fellow with the Tennessee Education Research Alliance and a faculty adviser to the Strategic Data Project through the Center for Education Policy Research at Harvard University.


Jesper Eriksen, Shaun M. Dougherty.

Vocational Education and Training (VET) programs are prevalent in a European context, but often struggle with drop-out rates that exceed those of general upper-secondary education. Using Danish administrative data, we study the effects of reform-induced reductions in shares of VET students who did not pass their lower secondary final exams on passing GPA VET students. We find that passing students have a higher probability of remaining enrolled in VET after the first year of studies when entering a VET school with a higher share of below-passing peers. Studying outside options, we find that students become less likely to drop out of education entirely. The results are consistent with models of peer effects in which particularly unmotivated students become points of comparison for their peers, increasing their motivation and likelihood of remaining enrolled.

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Shaun M. Dougherty, Mary M. Smith, Beth Kelly.

Prior research has clearly established the substantial expected payoffs to investments in early childhood education. However, the ability to deliver early childhood programs differs across communities with access to high quality programing especially hard to establish in rural communities. We study one program, Early Steps to School Success, to understand whether the provision of home visiting and book exchange programs in rural Kentucky can influence kindergarten readiness. Linking program data with the state longitudinal data system in Kentucky we create multiple comparison groups by matching children on known program qualification indicators to estimate whether Early Steps program participation was related to school readiness. Our estimates suggest that program participation resulted in small improvements to children’s kindergarten readiness, as measured by the Brigance kindergarten readiness assessment overall score and sub-scores in language, cognitive, and physical development. Results are not sensitive to our choice of comparison group, though they appear driven by the experiences of children who participate from birth through age five or from ages three-to-five only. Our findings suggest that the Early Steps home visiting intervention may be a worthwhile intervention for improving kindergarten preparedness for children living in rural contexts.

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Shaun M. Dougherty, Mary M. Smith.

Career and technical education (CTE) has existed in the United States for over a century, and only in recent years have there been opportunities to assess the causal impact of participating in these programs while in high school. To date, no work has assessed whether the relative costs of these programs meet or exceed the benefits as described in recent evaluations. In this paper, we use available cost data to compare average costs per pupil in standalone high school CTE programs in Connecticut and Massachusetts to the most likely counterfactual schools. Under a variety of conservative assumptions about the monetary value of known educational and social benefits, we find that programs in Massachusetts offer clear positive returns on investment, whereas programs in Connecticut offer smaller, though mostly non-negative expected returns. We also consider the potential cost effectiveness of CTE programs offered in other contexts to address questions of generalizability.  

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Walter G. Ecton, Shaun M. Dougherty.

High school Career and Technical Education (CTE) has received an increase in attention from both policymakers and researchers in recent years. This study fills a needed gap in the growing research base by examining heterogeneity within the wide range of programs falling under the broader CTE umbrella, and highlights the need for greater nuance in research and policy conversations that often consider CTE as monolithic. Examining multiple possible outcomes, including earnings, postsecondary education, and poverty avoidance, we find substantial differences in outcomes for students in fields as diverse as healthcare, IT, and construction. We also highlight heterogeneity for student populations historically overrepresented in CTE, and find large differences in outcomes for CTE students, particularly by gender.

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