Three Essays In The Economics Of Education

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This dissertation is a compilation of three essays. The first essay uses longitudinal administrative data on teachers to investigate the relative productivity benefits of acquiring general versus task-specific human capital. Within a school, elementary teachers frequently change grade assignments and I exploit the resulting variation in grade-specific tenure to separately identify the effect of general teaching experience and specific experience. Using a value-added model that controls for teacher fixed effects, I find that both general experience and grade-specific experience improve teacher performance. In addition to providing evidence that the productivity returns to human capital can be sensitive to seemingly small changes in task requirements, this study furthers our understanding of how teachers improve with experience. The second essay uses longitudinal administrative data from a large selective research university to analyze the role of peers and grades in determining major persistence in the life and physical sciences. In the physical sciences, analyses using within-course, across-time variation show that ex-ante measures of peer quality in a student's introductory courses has a lasting impact on the probability of persisting in the major. This peer effect exhibits important non-linearities such that weak students benefit from exposure to stronger peers while strong students are not dragged down by weaker peers. In both the physical and life sciences, I find evidence that students are "pulled away" by their high grades in non-science courses and "pushed out" by their low grades in their major field. The final essay examines the effect of undergraduate course letter grades on future course selection and major choice. Using a Regression-Discontinuity design, I exploit the fact that the probability of earning a particular letter grade jumps discontinuously around letter grade cutoffs. This variation in letter grades allows me to isolate the impact of letter grades on major choice and course selection. I collect original numerical scores for 65 introductory courses across 6 fields and merge this with administrative data including student-level characteristics and transcripts. Since grading cutoffs exist throughout the distribution of scores, I am able to estimate local treatment effects at a variety of localities to examine the distribution of treatment effects. Contrary to the findings of the previous literature, I find no evidence that students respond to their letter grades in terms of course or major choices.
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Economics; Education
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Ehrenberg, Ronald Gordon
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Hallock, Kevin F.
Matsudaira, Jordan D.
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Ph. D., Economics
Degree Level
Doctor of Philosophy
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dissertation or thesis
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