Theses Doctoral

Essays on the Role of Parents in Educational Outcomes and Inequality

Chan, Eric Wai Kin

Parents have been shown to be a crucial driver in a child's educational outcomes in both the economics and education literature. However, researchers have yet to understand the roles that educational interventions, information, and policies might have on parental behavior and engagement toward their child's education and, in turn, how to effectively promote parental engagement for the benefits of children. In my dissertation, I examine how educational interventions and policies can impact the behavior and decision-making of parents and in turn affect student achievement. Specifically, I add to the scholarly literature evidence on (a) how being identified as gifted student affect parental levels of engagement and time investments, (b) how timely information about academic progress might change parental behaviors and improve educational outcomes, and (c) how immigrant mothers react to an expansion of pre-K specifically targeted at their children.
Chapter one examines the short-term and long-term effects of an elementary school gifted education program in California that clusters 6-8 gifted students in classrooms. While I examine the academic effects of the program, I emphasize the analysis on the role of parent engagement and time investments in the lives of gifted children. While the gifted education literature has studied the causal effects of programs, there is limited evidence on how parent engagement might change as a result of these programs and its potential as a mechanism for achievement effects. Therefore, this study contributes to the economic debate of whether parent engagement is a complement or substitute to education quality. Using a fuzzy regression discontinuity approach, I primarily find small to no evidence on short-term academic effects, but stronger effects on longer-term course-taking and college outcomes. On the parent side, I find that while most parents are not more engaged overall, parents of minority gifted children and low-socioeconomic students are. The implication is that there is heterogeneity in the manner by which parents react behaviorally to students that are identified as gifted.
In Chapter two, a joint paper with Peter Bergman, we run a randomized controlled trial in West Virginia examining the effects of a high-frequency academic information intervention on middle and high school student' academic outcomes. In this field experiment, we send out three types of alerts to parents - weekly missing assignments, weekly class absences, and monthly low grade average - during the 2015-16 school year. We find that the intervention reduces course failures by 38%, increases class attendance by 17%, and increases retention. We find no evidence that test scores improve, but find that there are significant improvements on in-class exam scores. The evidence of improvement in test scores show that there are information frictions between parent and child, and thus parents may have inaccurate beliefs about their child's abilities due to a lack of complete information.
Chapter three examines the maternal labor supply and pre-K enrollment effects of a bilingual pre-K policy implemented in Illinois during the 2010-11 school year, which came after the implementation of a statewide universal pre-K program in 2007. Research has shown the importance of quality preschool in the development of a child, with minorities particularly sensitive to the prevalence of quality early childhood education. In this study, I exploit variation in a policy mandating that any school with at least twenty identified English Language Learner student of a particular language is required to open up a bilingual classroom for those students. Using multiple control groups and various difference-in-differences specifications, I find that there is little to no change in maternal labor supply among Hispanics and recent immigrants, including the probability of being in the labor force, hours worked per week, and wage and salary income. However, I also find a significant and robust increase of 18-20 percentage points in the enrollment of 3- and 4-year old children into pre-K programs in Illinois. This result shows that, even in a state where there is universal access to pre-K, the design of such policies might not have sufficient reach to high-need parents. Taken together, this dissertation helps deepen our understanding of the various roles parents might affect educational outcomes and inequality. As my results demonstrate, there are various ways which help and incentivize parents to react in a manner that will improve childhood and long-term outcomes. Whether by programs, information, or public policy, the tools are many, yet it is crucial that scholarly work continues to dive deeper into how parents, children, and other stakeholders react.


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More About This Work

Academic Units
Economics and Education
Thesis Advisors
Bergman, Peter
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
August 4, 2018