Theses Doctoral

Essays in Education Policies in Latin America

Navarro-Palau, Patricia

Education is often perceived as a key to development and growth, consequently, in the last decades, many countries have increased education coverage in all education levels. The creation of international education quality measurement programs, such as OECD’s Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) or the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS), have further led to a focus on improving education quality. For these reasons, the last decades have seen an increase in the importance of education in the political debate. This has been particularly relevant in Latin America, where, additionally, education has been used, sometimes, to fight traditionally high levels of income inequality, with a significant rise in education expenditure and coverage.
The evaluation of education policies that aim to increase education coverage, quality or equity is, however, generally difficult. Many education policies are large-scale policies and are likely to affect all students or workers in the population, even those not directly benefiting from the policy. For example, students not participating in some education policy could still experience changes in their classmate characteristics that could affect their achievement. The presence of possible spillovers may change the direction of the effects of large-scale education policies when all the population is included in the analysis. Therefore, analyzing solely the effects on students participating in the policy may not give a complete picture of the effects of large-scale education policies.
This dissertation focuses on the effects that three large-scale education policies that aimed to improve education equity, quality and coverage, respectively, had on students and workers affected differently by the policies. Particularly, each chapter analyzes the aggregate effects for the population of each education policy and decomposes these effects on the impact suffered by different groups of students or workers.
In Chapter 1, I analyze the effects on test scores of a policy that aimed to increase education equity in Chile. I study the effects of an increase in school choice for low-income students by examining a 2008 reform that made the value of Chile’s (previously flat, universal) school voucher a step function of student income. This policy increased the proportion of private schools that low income, eligible children could access free of charge from 0.5 to 0.7. In order to identify aggregate effects and the impact within groups of students, I combine the introduction of the policy with variation from a date of birth enrollment cutoff for 1st grade. I show that the differentiated voucher lowered the probability that students used public schools by a small fraction and that these students shifted out of low achievement public schools to enroll in low achievement private schools. Nonetheless, private schools where these students enrolled had better test scores and socioeconomic composition at baseline, and less experienced teachers and smaller class sizes than public schools where they would have enrolled in the absence of the program. Despite the improvement in some school observable characteristics, I do not find any increase in test scores for students more likely to move to private schools. Further analysis suggests a rise in test scores for students most likely to stay in public schools. These results suggest that the policy had an overall modest positive effect on test scores, but that this positive effect was caused by responses from public schools instead of by students responding to the increase in school choice.
In Chapter 2, I study the impact on test scores of a policy that aimed to improve education quality by increasing transparency of school performance in Chile. Particularly, I look at the effects of the distribution of school performance information to all families in Chile in 2011. Since I am interested in identifying effects for different groups of students, I define a control group within each group of students by using variation in enrollment year. Due to the presence of a date of birth enrollment cutoff for 1st grade enrollment there is variation in enrollment year for students born a few days apart. I combine this variation together with the timing of the distribution of information to identify the effects of the policy. I show that the distribution of information increased enrollment in high-performing schools, particularly for students in the third quartile of the municipality socioeconomic distribution. Thanks to this policy, students in the third quartile were exposed to a better socioeconomic composition of peers. Test score results suggest that there was an overall positive effect on verbal test scores, particularly for students in the third quartile, seemingly caused by an improvement in peer characteristics. However, there does not seem to be any significant change in test scores for students less likely to change enrollment decisions in response to the new information.
Finally, Chapter 3, examines the effects of a policy that increased tertiary education coverage in Colombia on wages. I identify the effects on the distribution of wages using two different empirical strategies: the DiNardo, Fortin and Lemieux (1996) reweighting method and a differences-indifferences strategy. My results suggest that the overall distribution of wages remained constant, once labor demand shifts and productivity changes are taken into account. In contrast, wages increased for workers that were not at the margin of studying tertiary education, workers with primary education or less, and the density of wages at high levels of the distribution decreased for high school and tertiary education graduates. However, there were no effects on average wages for workers with any of the education levels. These results suggest that the policy had heterogeneous effects within the wage distribution and between education levels that were not captured by changes in average wages.
These three chapters show that large-scale education policies can, sometimes, have effects on achievement or wages of students that are not participating in the policy, and that these effects are not always visible in the aggregate effects. Therefore, policy-makers and researchers should take into account the presence of spillovers or strategic responses when designing or analyzing large-scale education policies.

Geographic Areas


  • thumnail for NavarroPalau_columbia_0054D_13473.pdf NavarroPalau_columbia_0054D_13473.pdf application/pdf 1.75 MB Download File

More About This Work

Academic Units
Thesis Advisors
Urquiola, Miguel S.
Pop-Eleches, Kiki
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
July 11, 2016