Published Papers

The Long Term Value of Value-Added: Examining the Persistence of Teacher-Induced Learning Gains

With Brian Jacob and David Sims. Journal of Human Resources, 2010, 45(4): 915-943. 
This paper constructs a statistical model of learning that suggests a systematic way of measuring the persistence of treatment effects in education. This method is straighforward to implement, allows for comparisons across educational treatments, and can be related to intuitive benchmarks. We demonstrate the methodology using student-teacher linked administrative data for North Carolina to examine the persistence of teacher quality. We find that teacher-induced learning has low persistence, with three-quarters or more fading out within one year. Other measures of teacher quality produce similar or lower persistence estimates.

Chapter 7 or 13: Are Client or Lawyer Interests Paramount?

With Frank McIntyre and Michelle Miller. The B.E. Journal of Economic Policy and Analysis (Advances), 2010, 10(1): Article 82

Households often rely on professionals with specialized knowledge to make important financial decisions. In many cases, the professional’s financial interests are at odds with those of the client. We explore this problem in the context of personal bankruptcy. OLS, IV, and fixed effects estimates all show that attorneys play a central role in determining whether households file under Chapter 7 or Chapter 13 of the bankruptcy code. We present evidence suggesting that some attorneys maximize profits by steering households into Chapter 13 bankruptcy even when the households’ objective financial benefits are low and the probability of case dismissal is high. An attorney-induced Chapter 13 filing increases household legal fees and reduces the probability of long-term debt relief.

The Effect of Grade Retention on High School Completion

With Brian Jacob. American Economic Journal: Applied Economics, 2009, 1(3): 33-58.

Low-achieving students in many school districts are retained in a grade in order to allow them to gain the academic or social skills that teachers believe are necessary to succeed academically. This practice is highly controversial, with many observers claiming that retention increases the propensity for students to drop out of school. Unfortunately, selection concerns have severely complicated previous analyses. In this paper, we use plausibly exogenous variation in retention generated by a test-based promotion policy to assess the causal impact of grade retention on high school completion. We find that retention among younger students does not affect the likelihood of high school completion, but that retaining low-achieving eighth grade students in elementary school substantially increases the probability that these students will drop out of high school. This suggests that one must carefully assess the costs and benefits of grade retention policies for older students.

Explaining the Puzzle of Cross-State Differences in Bankruptcy Rates

With Frank McIntyre. Journal of Law and Economics, 2009, 52(2).

Bankruptcy rates vary tremendously across states and it is not obvious why. Unfortunately, the number of candidate explanations is large relative to the number of states. To overcome this problem, we use zip code level data which allows us to identify the importance of demographic variables using within-state variation. This preserves state level degrees of freedom to identify the impact of state policy variables. We find that demographics, wage garnishment restrictions, and the fraction of bankruptcies filed under Chapter 13 explain about 70 percent of the variation in filing rates across states. Equalizing exemption rates, the size of public safety nets, and payday loan regulations across states would have almost no impact on the cross-state variance in filing rates. Our findings suggest that state bankruptcy rates strongly reflect the relative costs of filing for formal bankruptcy versus informal default. States without effective wage garnishment provisions allow easy informal default without the filing costs. Furthermore, repayment plans mandated under Chapter 13 bankruptcy often lead to repeated bankruptcy filings. The substitutability of bankruptcy and informal default together with the frequent failure of court-mandated repayment schemes are likely to limit the impact of bankruptcy restrictions, including the recently enacted Bankruptcy Abuse Prevention and Consumer Protection Act, on consumer default.

Can Principals Identify Effective Teachers? Evidence on Subjective Performance Evaluation in Education

With Brian Jacob. Journal of Labor Economics, 2008, 25(1) : 101-136.

We examine how well principals can distinguish between more and less effective teachers. To put principal evaluations in context, we compare them with the traditional determinants of teacher compensation—education and experience—as well as value-added measures of teacher effectiveness based on student achievement gains. We present “out-of-sample” predictions that mitigate concerns that the teacher quality and student achievement measures are determined simultaneously. We find that principals can generally identify teachers who produce the largest and smallest standardized achievement gains but have far less ability to distinguish between teachers in the middle of this distribution.

What Do Parents Value in Education? An Empirical Examination of Parents’ Revealed Preferences for Teachers (EBSCO)

With Brian Jacob. Quarterly Journal of Economics, 2007, 122(4): 1603-1637.

This paper examines revealed preferences of parents for their children's education, using parent requests for individual elementary school teachers and information on teacher attributes, including principal reports of teacher characteristics that are typically unobservable. On average, parents strongly prefer teachers whom principals describe as good at promoting student satisfaction, though they also value teacher ability to raise academic achievement. These aggregate effects mask striking differences across schools. Families in higher poverty schools strongly value student achievement and appear indifferent to the principal's report of a teacher's ability to promote student satisfaction. The results are reversed for families in wealthier schools.

The Dynamics of Criminal Behavior: Evidence from Weather Shocks (Working Paper Version from NBER)

With Brian Jacob and Enrico Moretti. Journal of Human Resources, 2007, 42(3): 489-527.

While the persistence of criminal activity is well documented, this may be due to persistence in the unobserved determinants of crime. There are good reasons to believe, however, that there may actually be a negative relationship between crime rates in a particular area due to temporal displacement. We exploit the correlation between weather and crime to examine the short-run dynamics of crime. Using variation in lagged crime rates due to weather shocks, we find that the positive serial correlation is reversed. These findings suggest that the long-run impact of temporary crime-prevention efforts may be smaller than the short-run effects.

Examining the Relationship between Women’s Education and Marriage Outcomes  (University of Chicago) (Working Paper Version)

With Frank McIntyre. Journal of Labor Economics, 2006, 24(4): 787-830.

Using 2000 Census data, we describe the relationship between women’s education and marriage outcomes. Women’s education is strongly related to husband's income and marital status. This relationship is highly nonlinear and varies across the distribution of husband's earnings. Roughly half of the correlation between women’s education and consumption operates through the marriage market. Using 1980 Census data and the quarter of birth instruments proposed by Angrist and Krueger, we find that women's education may have a positive causal effect on husband's earnings, though not on probability of marriage.

The Impact of Teacher Training on Student Achievement: Quasi-Experimental Evidence from School Reform 

Efforts in Chicago (JSTOR)

With Brian Jacob. Journal of Human Resources, 2004, 39(1): 50-79.

While there is a substantial literature on the relationship between general teacher characteristics and student learning, school districts and states often rely on in-service teacher training as a part of school reform efforts. Recent school reform efforts in Chicago provide an opportunity to examine in-service training using a quasi-experimental research design. In this paper, we use a regression discontinuity strategy to estimate the effect of teacher training on the math and reading performance of of elementary students. We find that marginal increases in in-service training have no statistically or academically significant effect on either reading or math achievement, suggesting that modest investments in staff development may not be sufficient to increase the achievement of elementary school children in high-poverty schools.

Remedial Education and Student Achievement: A Regression-Discontinuity Analysis (EBSCO)

With Brian Jacob. Review of Economics and Statistics, 2004, 86(1): 226-244.

As standards and accountability have become increasingly prominent features of the educational landscape, educators have relied more on remedial programs such as summer school and grade retention to help low-achieving students meet minimum academic standards. Yet the evidence on the effectiveness of such programs is mixed, and prior research suffers from selection bias. However, recent school reform efforts in Chicago provide an opportunity to examine the causal impact of these remedial education programs. In 1996, the Chicago Public Schools instituted an accountability policy that tied summer school and promotional decisions to performance on standardized tests, which resulted in a highly nonlinear relationship between current achievement and the probability of attending summer school or being retained. Using a regression discontinuity design, we find that the net effect of these programs was to substantially increase academic achievement among third-graders, but not sixth-graders. In addition, contrary to conventional wisdom and prior research, we find that retention increases achievement for third-grade students and has little effect on math achievement for sixth-grade students.

Educational Peer Effects and the Chicago Public Schools (Science Direct) (Working Paper Version)

Journal of Urban Economics, 2004, 56(2): 169-191.

Using data on third and sixth grade students in the Chicago public schools, I examine peer effects using variation in school tracking policies. In tracked schools, high ability students receive the benefit of being placed in classes with high ability peers. The opposite is the case for low ability students. If peer effects were important, one would expect students with high initial ability in tracked schools to outperform similar students in untracked schools. Similarly, students with low initial ability in tracked schools should lag behind their counterparts in untracked schools. Using an identification strategy that takes advantage of this intuition, I find peer effects to be quite small, though generally positive and statistically significant.

Are Idle Hands the Devil’s Workshop? Incapacitation, Concentration, and Juvenile Crime (JSTOR) (Working Paper Version)

With Brian Jacob. American Economic Review, 2003, 93(5): 1560-1577.

This paper examines the short-term effect of school on juvenile crime. To do so, we bring together daily measures of criminal activity and detailed school calendar information from 29 jurisdictions across the country, and utilize the plausibly exogenous variation generated by teacher in-service days. We find that the level of property crime committed by juveniles decrease by 14 percent on days when school is in session, but the level of violent crime increases by 28 percent on such days. Our findings suggest the both incapacitation and concentration influence juvenile crime.

An Approach to Longitudinally Matching Current Population Survey (CPS) Respondents (EBSCO) (Working Paper Version)

With Brigitte Madrian. Journal of Economic and Social Measurement, 2000, 26: 31-62

In this paper, we propose an approach for evaluating the trade-offs inherent in different approaches used to match Current Population Survey (CPS) respondents across various CPS surveys. Because there is some measurement error in both the variables used the identify individuals over time and in the characteristics of individuals at any point in time, any procedure used to match CPS respondents has the possibility of both generating incorrect matches and failing to generate potentially valid matches. We propose using the information contained in the variable on whether an individual lived in the same house on March 1 of the previous year as a way to gauge these trade-offs. We find that as measured by reported residence one year ago, increasing the fraction of "invalid'' merges that are rejected usually comes at a cost of decreasing the fraction of "valid'' merges that are retained. However, there are clearly some approaches that are superior to others in the sense that they result in both a higher fraction of "invalid'' merges being rejected and a higher fraction of "valid'' merges being retained.

Forthcoming Papers

Using Subject Test Scores Efficiently to Predict Teacher Value-Added

With David Sims. Submitted to Education Evaluation and Policy Analysis.

This paper develops a simple model of teacher value-added to show how efficient use of information across subjects can improve the predictive ability of value-added models. Using matched student teacher data from North Carolina data we show that the optimal use of math and reading scores improves the fit of prediction models of overall future teacher value-added by up to 90 percent for reading and 10 percent overall (math and reading combined). Efficiency gains are greatest when value-added must be calculated on only one or two years of data.

The Impact of Research Grant Funding on Scientific Productivity

With Brian Jacob. Submitted to the Journal of Political Economy.

In this paper, we estimate the impact of receiving an NIH grant on subsequent publications and citations. Our sample consists of all applications (unsuccessful as well as successful) to the NIH from 1980 to 2000 for postdoctoral training grants (F32s) and standard research grants (R01s). Both OLS and regression discontinuity estimates show that receipt of either an NIH postdoctoral fellowship or research grant leads to about one additional publication over the next five years. The estimates represent about 20 and 7 percent increases in research productivity for F32 and R01 recipients respectively. The limited research impact of NIH grants may be explained in part by a model in which the market for research funding is competitive, so that the loss of an NIH grant simply causes researchers to shift to another source of funding.

Interracial Workplace Cooperation: Evidence from the NBA (NBER)

With Joseph Price and Henry Tappen

Using data from the National Basketball Association (NBA), we examine whether patterns of workplace cooperation occur disproportionately among workers of the same race. We find that, holding constant the composition of teammates on the floor, basketball players are no more likely to complete an assist to a player of the same race than a player of a different race. Our confidence interval allows us to reject even small amounts of same-race bias in passing patterns. Our findings suggest that high levels of interracial cooperation can occur in a setting where workers are operating in a highly visible setting with strong incentives to behave efficiently.

Rich Dad, Smart Dad: Decomposing the Intergenerational Transmission of Income

With Matthew J. Lindquist and David Sims

We construct a simple model, consistent with Becker and Tomes (1979), that decomposes the intergenerational income elasticity into the causal effect of financial resources, the mechanistic transmission of human capital, and the role that human capital plays in the determination of father’s permanent income. We show how a particular set of instrumental variables could separately identify the money and human capital transmission effects. We further outline two instrumental variables methods for bounding the structural parameters of our model in the presence of imperfect instruments. Using data from a thirty-five percent sample of Swedish sons and their fathers, we show that only a minority of the intergenerational income elasticity can be plausibly attributed to the causal effect of fathers’ financial resources.

Coaches on the Hot Seat: Testing Models of Moral Hazard Screening​

With Brennan Platt.

The Impact of NIH Postdoctoral Training Grants on Scientific Productivity

With Brian Jacob. Revision submitted to Research Policy

In this paper, we estimate the impact of receiving an NIH grant on subsequent publications and citations. Our sample consists of all applications (unsuccessful as well as successful) to the NIH from 1980 to 2000 for postdoctoral training grants (F32s). Both ordinary least squares and regression discontinuity estimates show that receipt of an NIH postdoctoral fellowship leads to about one additional publication over the next five years, which reflects a 20 percent increase in research productivity.

Working Papers

Bankruptcy as Consumption Insurance

With Val Lambson, Frank McIntyre, and Michelle Miller

With Scott Condie and David Sims​


     Published &​ Working Papers


     Course Summary


     Lars J. Lefgren
​     ​Faculty Homepage ​​
​​ ​