Friday, November 03, 2006

Interesting Papers

School Quality and the Black-White Achievement Gap

Substantial uncertainty exists about the impact of school quality on the black-white achievement gap. Our results, based on both Texas Schools Project (TSP) administrative data and the Early Childhood Longitudinal Survey (ECLS), differ noticeably from other recent analyses of the black-white achievement gap by providing strong evidence that schools have a substantial effect on the differential. The majority of the expansion of the achievement gap with age occurs between rather than within schools, and specific school and peer factors exert a significant effect on the growth in the achievement gap. Unequal distributions of inexperienced teachers and of racial concentrations in schools can explain all of the increased achievement gap between grades 3 and 8. Moreover, non-random sample attrition for school changers and much higher rates of special education classification and grade retention for blacks appears to lead to a significant understatement of the increase in the achievement gap with age within the ECLS and other data sets.

Cramming: The Effects of School Accountability on College-Bound Students

This paper is the first to explore the effects of school accountability systems on high-achieving students' long-term performance. Using exceptional data from a large highly-selective state university, we relate school accountability pressure in high school to a student's university-level grades and study habits. We exploit a change in the state's accountability system in 1999 that led to some schools becoming newlythreatened by accountability pressure and others becoming newly-unthreatened to identify the effects of accountability pressure. We find that an accountability system based on a low-level test of basic skills apparently led to generally reduced performance by high-achieving students, while an accountability system based on a more challenging criterion-referenced exam apparently led to improved performance in college on mathematics and other technical subjects. Both types of systems are associated with increased "cramming" by students in college. The results indicate that the nature of an accountability system can influence its effectiveness.

Individual Teacher Incentives And Student Performance

This paper is the first to systematically document the relationship between individual teacher performance incentives and student achievement using United States data. We combine data from the National Education Longitudinal Survey on schools, students, and their families with our own survey conducted in 2000 regarding the use of teacher incentives. This survey on teacher incentives has unique data on frequency and magnitude of merit raises and bonuses, teacher evaluation, and teacher termination. We find that test scores are higher in schools that offer individual financial incentives for good performance. Moreover, the estimated relationship between the presence of merit pay in teacher compensation and student test scores is strongest in schools that may have the least parental oversight. The association between teacher incentives and student performance could be due to better schools adopting teacher incentives or to teacher incentives eliciting more effort from teachers; it is impossible to rule out the former explanation with our cross sectional data.

Professor Qualities and Student Achievement

This paper uses a new administrative dataset of students at a large university matched to courses and instructors to analyze the importance of teacher quality at the postsecondary level. Instructors are matched to both objective and subjective characteristics of teacher quality to estimate the impact of rank, salary, and perceived effectiveness on grade, dropout and subject interest outcomes. Student fixed effects, time of day and week controls, and the fact that first year students have little information about instructors when choosing courses helps minimize selection biases. We also estimate each instructor's value added and the variance of these effects to determine the extent to which any teacher difference matters to short-term academic outcomes. The findings suggest that subjective teacher evaluations perform well in reflecting an instructor's influence on students while objective characteristics such as rank and salary do not. Whether an instructor teaches full-time or part-time, does research, has tenure, or is highly paid has no influence on a college student's grade, likelihood of dropping a course or taking more subsequent courses in the same subject. However, replacing one instructor with another ranked one standard deviation higher in perceived effectiveness increases average grades by 0.5 percentage points, decreases the likelihood of dropping a class by 1.3 percentage points and increases in the number of same-subject courses taken in second and third year by about 4 percent. The overall importance of instructor differences at the university level is smaller than that implied in earlier research at the elementary and secondary school level, but important outliers exist.

The Causes and Consequences of Land Use Regulation: Evidence from Greater Boston (clearly the best of the bunch)

Over the past 30 years, eastern Massachusetts has seen a remarkable combination of rising home prices and declining supply of new homes. The reductions in new supply don't appear to reflect a real lack of land, but instead reflect a response to man-made restrictions on development. In this paper, we examine the land-use regulations in greater Boston. There has been a large increase in the number of new regulations, which differ widely over space. Few variables, other than historical density and abundant recreational water, reliably predict these regulations. High lot sizes and other regulations are associated with less construction. The regulations boost prices by decreasing density, but density levels seem far too low to maximize
total land value.

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