Essays On The Economics Of Education
This dissertation examines various economic factors that influence student academic performance. In the first essay, I explore the role of behavioral factors in educational performance by testing whether time-management tools can improve academic outcomes for online students. I design three software tools including (1) a commitment device that allows students to pre-commit to time limits on distracting Internet activities, (2) a reminder tool that is triggered by time spent on distracting websites, and (3) a focusing tool that allows students to block distracting sites when they go to the course website. I test the impact of these tools in a large-scale randomized experiment (n=657) conducted in a massive open online course (MOOC) hosted by Stanford University. Relative to students in the control group, students in the commitment device treatment spend 24% more time working on the course, receive course grades that are 0.29 standard deviations higher, and are 40% more likely to complete the course. In contrast, outcomes for students in the reminder and focusing treatments are not statistically distinguishable from the control. These results suggest that tools designed to address procrastination can have a significant impact on online student performance. In the second essay, I examine whether trends in parenting time could help explain the black-white test score gap. I use data from the American Time Use Survey (ATUS) to examine the patterns in the time black and white children receive from mothers at each age between birth and age 14 and compare these patterns to corresponding test-score gaps documented in the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study (ECLS-K). I observe that black children spend significantly less time with their mothers than white children in the first years of life and that differences are concentrated in activities that may be especially important during these years. Differences in parenting time, however, rapidly decline with age. Contrastingly, when socioeconomic variables are controlled, black-white test score gaps are small in kindergarten, but then grow over time. The results of this study suggest that contemporaneous differences in parent time are unlikely to be a significant factor in black-white test score trends. In the third essay, coauthored with Jordan Matsudaira, I study whether charter school unionization impacts student academic outcomes. We use administrative school-level data coupled with data on the timing of union recognition collected via our own public records requests (PRR) and records of unionization from the state Public Employment Relations Board (PERB) to construct difference-in-difference estimates the of the impact of teacher unionization on student outcomes. We find that unionization has a positive and statically significant impact on student math performance and a positive but only marginally significant impact on english performance. In our preferred estimates, we find that unions increase average grade-level math test scores by 0.17-0.21 standard deviations (SD) and English scores by 0.06-0.08 SD. These estimates allow us to rule out even modest negative effects of unionization on student academic outcomes.
Economics of Education; Behavioral Economics; Applied Microeconomics
Benjamin,Daniel; Homonoff,Tatiana A.; Matsudaira,Jordan D.
Policy Analysis and Management
Ph. D., Policy Analysis and Management
Doctor of Philosophy
dissertation or thesis