Theses Doctoral

Three Essays on the Economics of Education

Geng, Tong

This dissertation consists of three essays studying the impact of school organization, incentives, and complementarity on education production. The identification strategy relies on exogenous variation generated from several education policies in New York City, the largest school district in the United States, and the key outcomes include students’ standardized test scores and subjective evaluation of their educational experiences.
The first chapter examines the complementarity of incentives in education production. Many production activities require cooperation between agents in an organization, and incentive alignment may take advantage of complementarities in such activities. This paper investigates such a possibility by examining two education policies that were implemented in New York City: a grade retention policy that incentivizes students and an accountability scheme that incentivizes schools. I employ double- and triple-difference strategies to estimate the individual and combined effects of these policies. The policies alone appear to have generated either modest or insignificant improvements in student outcomes. Combined, however, the retention and accountability policies led to a substantial increase in math test scores and reductions in student absences and suspension rates; the effect on English test scores is positive but not robust. These results underscore the value of using incentive alignment to realize complementarities in organizations.
The second chapter, co-authored with Jonah Rockoff, looks at the effect of repeating a grade on students’ test scores and subjective evaluation of their educational experiences. When a student’s academic knowledge or preparation is well below that of his or her age group, a common policy response is to have that student repeat a grade level and join the following, younger cohort. Evaluating the impacts of grade retention is made complicated by the potential incomparability of (1) retained students to promoted peers and (2) outcomes measured differently across grade levels. In this paper, we use novel data from New York City to ask whether parents’ and students’ self-reported educational experiences are significantly affected by grade retention. We take advantage of surveys that ask the same questions regardless of a student’s grade level, and implement a regression discontinuity approach, identifying causal effects on students retained due to missed cutoffs on math and English exams. We find that parental satisfaction with the quality of their child’s education and students’ sense of personal safety both improve significantly over the three years we observe from the time of retention. Our findings suggest that the stringent and somewhat controversial test-based retention policies enacted in New York had positive effects on the educational experience of these marginal students.
The third chapter reviews and reassesses the overall impact of Children First, which consists of a series of educational policies during Bloomberg’s administration in New York City. To expand our understanding of Children First, I first outline the key components of this education reform and review the literature on Children First and its associated policies. I also reassess the overall impact of Children First through the synthetic control method and find weak effects of this reform on student performance. Lastly, I provide an economic analysis to understand the advantages and weaknesses of Children First.

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More About This Work

Academic Units
Thesis Advisors
Urquiola, Miguel S.
Macleod, William B.
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
May 1, 2018