Three essays on economics of education

Date created: 
Private schools
Peer effects
School vouchers
School effectiveness
School choice
School competition
Open enrollment
Welfare transfers
Learning outcomes

This thesis is composed of three essays on economics of education. The first chapter is co-authored with Ciro Avitabile and Jesse Cunha and investigates the medium-term impact of early-life welfare transfers on children’s learning. It studies children who were exposed to the randomized controlled trial of the Mexico’s Food Support Program (Programa de Apoyo Alimentario), in which households were assigned to receive cash, in-kind food transfers, or nothing (a control). The findings show that in-kind transfers did not impact test scores, while cash transfers led to a significant and meaningful decrease in test scores. An analysis of the mechanisms driving these results reveals that both transfers led to an increase in child labor, which is likely detrimental to learning. In-kind food transfers, however, induced a greater consumption of several key micronutrients that are vital for brain development, which likely attenuated the negative impacts of child labor on learning. The second chapter, jointly with Jane Friesen and Simon Woodcock, studies sorting, peer effects and school effectiveness under a universal voucher program. Using student-level longitudinal data for the population of students enrolled in private and public schools, we estimate a model of test scores that includes student effects, school effects and peer effects. Our results provide both the first estimates of the contribution of peer ability to private school effectiveness and a novel set of estimates of the effect of private school cream-skimming on the achievement of public school students under a mature voucher program. We find evidence of substantial sorting that contributes meaningfully to achievement at private schools via peer effects but has little effect on the average outcomes of those left behind in public schools. The third chapter investigates the effect of a policy-induced increase in public school competition on private school enrollment and budget outcomes. I exploit a natural experiment created by the introduction of an open enrollment policy that expanded public school choice opportunities and increased competitive pressure on private schools. Using a new data set constructed from mandatory nonprofit information returns and school enrollment records, I find that an increase in public school competition modestly reduces private school enrollment. Catholic school enrollment is most responsive to increased public school choice, whereas other private schools such as Christian and other faith schools experience no reduction in enrollment. The negative enrollment effects are concentrated among high school age students. I find no evidence that private schools respond to this increased public school choice by adjusting their revenue and spending choices.

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Simon Woodcock
Arts & Social Sciences: Department of Economics
Thesis type: 
(Thesis) Ph.D.