Teaching to the Test

Kevin Lewis

September 18, 2023

The Dynastic Benefits of Early Childhood Education: Participant Benefits and Family Spillovers
Jorge Luis García, Frederik Bennhoff & Duncan Ermini Leaf
NBER Working Paper, August 2023 


We demonstrate the social efficiency of investing in high-quality early childhood education using newly collected data from the HighScope Perry Preschool Project. The data analyzed are the longest follow-up of any randomized early childhood education program. Annual observations of participant outcomes up to midlife allow us to provide a cost-benefit analysis without relying on forecasts. Adult outcomes on the participants' children and siblings allow us to quantify spillover benefits. The program generates a benefit-cost ratio of 6.0 (p-value = 0.03). Spillover benefits increase this ratio to 7.5 (p-value = 0.00).

School Accountability, Long-Run Criminal Activity, and Self-Sufficiency
Ozkan Eren et al.
NBER Working Paper, August 2023 


This paper examines the impact of school accountability on adult crime and economic self-sufficiency. We employ a unique source of linked administrative data from a Southern state and exploit exogenous variation generated by the state's accountability regime. Our findings indicate that a school's receipt of a lower accountability rating, at the bottom end of the ratings distribution, decreases adult criminal involvement. Accountability pressures also reduce the propensity of students' reliance on social welfare programs in adulthood and these effects persist at least until when individuals reach their early 30s. Further examination reveals that our results are consistent with an explanation related to improvements in human capital accumulation.

The Impact of Public School Choice: Evidence from Los Angeles' Zones of Choice
Christopher Campos & Caitlin Kearns
NBER Working Paper, August 2023 


Does a school district that expands school choice provide better outcomes for students than a neighborhood-based assignment system? This paper studies the Zones of Choice (ZOC) program, a school choice initiative of the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) that created small high school markets in some neighborhoods but left attendance-zone boundaries in place throughout the rest of the district. We study market-level impacts of choice on student achievement and college enrollment using a differences-in-differences design. Student outcomes in ZOC markets increased markedly, narrowing achievement and college enrollment gaps between ZOC neighborhoods and the rest of the district. The effects of ZOC are larger for schools exposed to more competition, supporting the notion that competition is a key channel. Demand estimates suggest families place substantial weight on schools' academic quality, providing schools with competition-induced incentives to improve their effectiveness. The evidence demonstrates that public school choice programs have the potential to improve school quality and reduce neighborhood-based disparities in educational opportunity.

Government Expenditure on the Public Education System
Chao Fu, Shoya Ishimaru & John Kennan
International Economic Review, forthcoming 


We investigate equilibrium impacts of federal policies such as free-college proposals, taking into account that human capital is cumulative and that state governments have resource constraints. In our model, a state government cares about household welfare and aggregate educational attainment. The government chooses income tax rates, per-student expenditures on K-12 and college education, college tuition, and the provision of other public goods. We estimate the model using U.S. data. Our simulations suggest that free-college policies would decrease state expenditure on education. More students would obtain college degrees. Most households would “pay” for the free-college policies through negative welfare effects.

Improving the signal quality of grades
Adam Chilton, Peter Joy, Kyle Rozema, James Thomas
Journal of Law, Economics, and Organization, forthcoming 


We investigate how improving the signal quality of grades could enhance the matching of students to selective opportunities that are awarded early in academic programs. To do so, we develop methods to measure the signal quality of grades and to estimate the impact of changes to university policies on the identification of exceptional students for these opportunities. We focus on law schools, a setting where students are awarded important academic and professional opportunities after just one year of a three-year program. Using transcript data from a top law school over a 40-year period, we document large gains in identifying exceptional students if changes were made to certain personnel, course, and grading policies. Our findings provide motivation and a blueprint for how universities could leverage their internal records to ensure that fewer exceptional students miss out on selective opportunities.

Impact of major awards on the subsequent work of their recipients
Andrew Nepomuceno, Hilary Bayer & John Ioannidis
Royal Society Open Science, August 2023 


To characterize the impact of major research awards on recipients' subsequent work, we studied Nobel Prize winners in Chemistry, Physiology or Medicine, and Physics and MacArthur Fellows working in scientific fields. Using a case-crossover design, we compared scientists’ citations, publications and citations-per-publication from work published in a 3-year pre-award period to their work published in a 3-year post-award period. Nobel Laureates and MacArthur Fellows received fewer citations for post- than for pre-award work. This was driven mostly by Nobel Laureates. Median decrease was 80.5 citations among Nobel Laureates (p = 0.004) and 2 among MacArthur Fellows (p = 0.857). Mid-career (42–57 years) and senior (greater than 57 years) researchers tended to earn fewer citations for post-award work. Early career researchers (less than 42 years, typically MacArthur Fellows) tended to earn more, but the difference was non-significant. MacArthur Fellows (p = 0.001) but not Nobel Laureates (p = 0.180) had significantly more post-award publications. Both populations had significantly fewer post-award citations per paper (p = 0.043 for Nobel Laureates, 0.005 for MacArthur Fellows, and 0.0004 for combined population). If major research awards indeed fail to increase (and even decrease) recipients' impact, one may need to reassess the purposes, criteria, and impacts of awards to improve the scientific enterprise.

The Null Result Penalty
Felix Chopra et al.
Economic Journal, forthcoming 


We examine how the evaluation of research studies in economics depends on whether a study yielded a null result. Studies with null results are perceived to be less publishable, of lower quality, less important, and less precisely estimated than studies with large and statistically significant results, even when holding constant all other study features, including the sample size and the precision of the estimates. The null result penalty is of similar magnitude among PhD students and journal editors. The penalty is larger when experts predict a large effect and when statistical uncertainty is communicated with p-values rather than standard errors. Our findings highlight the value of pre-results review.

Are Historians Increasingly Illiberal?
Vincent Geloso & Chandler Reilly
George Mason University Working Paper, July 2023 


There is a widely-shared perception that history faculty in colleges and universities lean heavily to the left and that this has gotten worse since the 1970s. However, party affiliations or self-proclaimed ideological labels do not automatically imply that historians are unable to check their political views at the doors of their offices and classrooms. In this paper, we assess whether they do by using the rankings of presidential performance made by historians since Arthur Schlesinger’s survey in 1948. We combine these rankings with a “classical-liberalism” index constructed out of changes to size of government and trade tariffs. The index does not change over time as the presidents are fixed. However, because the historians change from survey to survey, unchecked biases would imply that the index has a negative impact on presidential scores. Increasingly unchecked biases would imply an increasingly larger penalty on presidential scores. This is how we can document whether political biases seep into academic work. Using multiple econometric specifications, we are unable to find strong evidence of a bias that is growing over time.

Harmonious relations: Quality transmission among composers in the very long run
Karol Jan Borowiecki, Nicholas Martin Ford & Maria Marchenko
European Review of Economic History, August 2023, Pages 454–476 


Most creative professionals develop and refine their talents by learning from others. In most empirical settings, estimating how this learning process fosters quality is challenging. This paper explores the transmission of quality among music composers over more than seven centuries. How does a composer’s quality influence the quality of the composers they teach? Using a unique dataset of 17,433 composers, we show a strong relationship between student and teacher quality. Moreover, this quality transmission persists across multiple generations. Our results provide new insights on drivers of creativity, as well as the influence of teachers on students’ achievements.


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