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The Elite Illusion: Achievement Effects at Boston and New York Exam Schools

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Abstract: 

Talented students compete fiercely for seats at Boston and New York exam schools. These schools are characterized by high levels of peer achievement and a demanding curriculum tailored to each district's highest achievers. While exam school students do very well in school, the question of whether an exam school education adds value relative to a regular public education remains open. We estimate the causal effect of exam school attendance using a regression-discontinuity design, reporting both parametric and non- parametric estimates. The outcomes studied here include scores on state standardized achievement tests, PSAT and SAT participation and scores, and AP scores. Our estimates show little effect of exam school offers on most students' achievement. We use two-stage least squares to convert reduced form estimates of the effects of exam school offers into estimates of peer and tracking effects, arguing that these appear to be unimportant in this context. Finally, we explore the external validity of RD estimates, arguing that as best we can tell, there is little effect of an exam school education on achievement even for the highest-ability marginal applicants and for applicants to the right of admissions cutoffs. On the other hand, a Boston exam school education seems to have a modest effect on high school English scores for minority applicants. A small group of 9th grade applicants also appears to do better on SAT Reasoning. These localized gains notwithstanding, the intense competition for exam school seats does not appear to be justified by improved learning for a broad set of students.

Authors of the paper are Atila Abdulkadiroglu, Joshua D. Angrist, and Parag A. Pathak

Speaker: 
Joshua Angrist
Short bio: 

Joshua Angrist is the Ford Professor of Economics at MIT and a Research Associate in the NBER's programs on Children, Education, and Labor Studies. A dual U.S. and Israeli citizen, he taught at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem before coming to MIT. Angrist received his B.A. from Oberlin College in 1982 and also spent time as an undergraduate studying at the London School of Economics and as a Masters student at Hebrew University. He completed his Ph.D. in Economics at Princeton in 1989. His first academic job was as an Assistant Professor at Harvard from 1989-91.

Angrist's research interests include the effects of school inputs and school organization on student achievement; the impact of education and social programs on the labor market; the effects of immigration, labor market regulation and institutions; and econometric methods for program and policy evaluation. Many of Angrist's papers use data from other countries, but he does not especially like to travel and prefers to get data in the mail. Angrist is a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, The Econometric Society, and has served on many editorial boards and as a Co-editor of the Journal of Labor Economics. He received an honorary doctorate from the University of St Gallen (Switzerland) in 2007 and is the author (with Steve Pischke) of Mostly Harmless Economics: An Empiricist's Companion (Princeton University Press, 2009). In addition to academic work and teaching at MIT, Angrist occasionally ventures abroad to teach an Empirical Strategies short course based on Mostly Harmless Econometrics. The Angrist family lives in Brookline, Massachusetts and enjoys activities like hiking, mountain biking, skiing, skating, sailing, and eating.

Date: 
17 February 2012 - 10:00
Location: 

Faculty of Sociology - Aula Kessler - Via Verdi 26 - Trento

Programme: 

The presentation will be in English.