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A Non-Experimental Evaluation of Curriculum Effectiveness in Math

May 1, 2010

We use non-experimental data from a large panel of schools and districts in Indiana to evaluate the impacts of math curricula on student achievement. Using matching methods, we obtain causal estimates of curriculum effects at just a fraction of what it would cost to produce experimental estimates. Furthermore, external validity concerns that are particularly cogent in experimental curricular evaluations suggest that our non-experimental estimates may be preferred. In the short term, we find large differences in effectiveness across some math curricula. However, as with many other educational inputs, the effects of math curricula do not persist over time. Across curriculum adoption cycles, publishers that produce less effective curricula in one cycle do not lose market share in the next cycle. One explanation for this result is the dearth of information available to administrators about curricular effectiveness.

Assessing the Impact of Education and Marriage on Labor Market Exit Decisions of Women

February 1, 2010

During the late 1990s, the convergence of women's labor force participation rates to men's rates came to a halt. This paper explores the degree to which the role of education and marriage in women's labor supply decisions also changed over this time period. Specifically, this paper investigates women's decisions to exit the labor market upon the birth of a child. The results indicate that changing exit behavior among married, educated women at this period in their lives was not likely the driving force behind the aggregate changes seen in labor force participation. Rather, changes in exit rates among single women, particularly those less educated, are much more consistent with the changing pattern of aggregate female labor force participation.

Estimation of Treatment Effects Without an Exclusion Restriction with an Application to the Analysis of the School Breakfast Program

February 1, 2010

While the rise in childhood obesity is clear, the policy ramifications are not. School nutrition programs such as the School Breakfast Program (SBP) have come under much scrutiny. However, the lack of experimental evidence, combined with non-random selection into these programs, makes identification of the causal effects of such programs difficult. In the case of the SBP, this difficulty is exacerbated by the apparent lack of exclusion restrictions. Here, we compare via Monte Carlo study several existing estimators that do not rely on exclusion restrictions for identification. In addition, we propose two new estimation strategies. Simulations illustrate the usefulness of our new estimators, as well as provide applied researchers several practical guidelines when analyzing the causal effects of binary treatments. More importantly, we find consistent evidence of a beneficial causal effect of SBP participation on childhood obesity when applying estimators designed to circumvent selection on unobservables.

Institutional Economics and the Theory of What Unions Do

February 1, 2010

The theory of trade unions is re-examined using principles and ideas of institutional economics. An institutional perspective provides a more balanced and inclusive portrait of what unions do; it also demonstrates flaws and biases in the standard neoclassical account that lead to overly negative conclusions. Unions can either be "monopsony-reducing" or "monopolycreating" in their economic and governance functions and may thus in some situations improve economic performance and welfare but it others harm them. The "optimal" level of union density depends on the breadth and depth of market and governance failures and an assessment of the feasibility, benefits and costs of alternative institutional solutions to labor problems.

Teacher Salaries and Teacher Unions: A Spatial Econometric Approach

January 1, 2010

This paper uses the Schools and Staffing Survey to examine the determinants of teacher salaries in the U.S. using a spatial econometric framework. These determinants include teacher salaries in nearby districts, union activity in the district, union activity in neighboring districts, and other school district characteristics. The results confirm that salaries for both experienced and beginning teachers are positively affected by salaries in nearby districts. Investigations of the determinants of teacher salaries that ignore this spatial relationship are likely to be mis-specified. Including the effects of union activity in neighboring districts, the study also finds that union activity increases salaries for experienced teachers by as much as 18-28 percent but increases salaries for beginning teachers by a considerably smaller amount.

The Impacts of Gifted and Talented Education

October 1, 2009

This paper estimates the impact of gifted and talented program participation on academic achievement and peer composition for a sample of 8th grade students. Gifted education provides children that have been identified as having high ability in some intellectual respect with a supplemental curriculum to their traditional school course work. Participation in gifted programs is not random, so OLS estimates are biased by the presence of unobserved heterogeneity which is correlated with participation status as well as outcomes. To obtain causal estimates, I use an instrumental variables approach where the instrument is a self-constructed measure of how well each child fulfills the criteria his/her school uses to admit students into the gifted program, relative to the child's peers. The IV estimates indicate that, in the short run, participation is associated with a significant increase in math standardized test score performance. In the long run, participation is found to increase the probability a child takes Advanced Placement classes. There is no evidence that participation influences the composition of a child's peer group.

Studying the Child Obesity Epidemic with Natural Experiments

September 1, 2009

We utilize clinical records of successive visits by children to pediatric clinics in Indianapolis to estimate the effects on their body mass of environmental changes near their homes. We compare results for fixed-residence children with those for cross-sectional data. Our environmental factors are fast food restaurants, supermarkets, parks, trails, and violent crimes, and 13 types of recreational amenities derived from the interpretation of annual aerial photographs. We looked for responses to these factors changing within buffers of 0.1, 0.25, 0.5, and 1 mile. We found that cross-sectional estimates are quite different from the Fixed Effects estimates of the impacts of amenities locating near a child. In cross section nearby fast food restaurants were associated with higher BMI and supermarkets with lower BMI. These results were reversed in the FE estimates. The recreational amenities that appear to lower children's BMI were fitness areas, kickball diamonds, and volleyball courts. We estimated that locating these amenities near their homes could reduce the weight of an overweight eight-year old boy by 3 to 6 pounds.

Exploring the Spatial Determinants of Children's Activities: Evidence from India

August 1, 2009

This paper investigates the choice of children's activities in India and provides recommendations for areas where policy intervention to promote schooling and combat child labor would be most successful. First, we recognize that child schooling and labor are not the only activities that children can engage in and include idleness as one of the choices. Second, we use a hierarchical model with spatially correlated random effects to analyze the determinants of the choice of children's activities. Lastly, we recommend that pro-schooling intervention be implemented in districts with favorable attitudes towards schooling and unfavorable attitudes towards idleness, while anti-child-labor interventions be implemented in districts where attitudes towards child labor are less favorable. We thus identify two groups of Indian districts to target appropriate government interventions.

Measuring Human Capital and its Effects on Wage Growth

August 1, 2009

Ever since Mincer (1974), years of labor market experience were used to approximate individual's general human capital, while years of seniority were used to approximate job specific human capital. This specification is restrictive because it assumes that starting wages at a new job depend only on job market experience. In this article I investigate the effects of human capital on wage growth by using a more flexible specification of the wage equation, which allows for rich set of information on past employment spells to affect the starting wages. In addition, I endogenize the labor mobility decision. In order to illuminate the effects of human capital accumulation patterns on wage growth, I compare counterfactual career paths for representative individuals.

Search Costs and Medicare Plan Choice

August 1, 2009

There is increasing evidence suggesting that Medicare beneficiaries do not make fully informed decisions when choosing among alternative Medicare health plans. To the extent that deciphering the intricacies of alternative plans consumes time and money, the Medicare health plan market is one in which search costs may play an important role. To account for this, we split beneficiaries into two groups|those who are informed and those who are uninformed. If uninformed, beneficiaries only use a subset of covariates to compute their maximum utilities, and if informed, they use the full set of variables considered. In a Bayesian framework with Markov Chain Monte Carlo (MCMC) methods, we estimate search cost coefficients based on the minimum and maximum statistics of the search cost distribution, incorporating both horizontal differentiation and information heterogeneities across eligibles. Our results suggest that, conditional on being uninformed, older, higher income beneficiaries with lower self-reported health status are more likely to utilize easier access to information.

Does Labor Supply Respond to a Flat Tax? Evidence from the Russian Tax Reform

June 1, 2009

We exploit the exogenous change in marginal tax rates created by the Russian flat tax reform of 2001 to identify the effect of taxes on labor supply of males and females. We apply the weighted difference-in-difference regression approach and instrumental variables to the labor supply function estimated on individual panel data. The mean regression results indicate that the tax reform led to a statistically significant increase in male hours of work but had no effect on that of females. However, we find a positive response to tax changes at both tails of the female hour distribution. We also find that the reform increased the probability of finding a job among both males and females. Despite significant variation in individual responses, the aggregate labor supply elasticities are trivial and suggest that reform-induced changes in labor supply were an unlikely explanation for the amplified personal income tax revenues that followed the reform.

Inequality and Volatility Moderation in Russia: Evidence from Micro-Level Panel Data on Consumption and Income

June 1, 2009

We construct key household and individual economic variables using a panel micro data set from the Russia Longitudinal Monitoring Survey (RLMS) for 1994-2005. We analyze cross-sectional income and consumption inequality and find that inequality decreased during the 2000-2005 economic recovery. The decrease appears to be driven by falling volatility of transitory income shocks. The response of consumption to permanent and transitory income shocks becomes weaker later in the sample, consistent with greater self-insurance against permanent shocks and greater smoothing of transitory shocks. Comparisons of RLMS data with official macroeconomic statistics reveal that national accounts may underestimate the extent of unofficial economic activity, and that the official consumer price index may overstate inflation and be prone to quality bias.