Essays on the Empirics of School Choice
This dissertation is an empirical study of school choice under various perspectives. Chapter 2 looks at school choice from the application perspective. It focuses on assignment mechanisms used by school districts to allocate available seats to students. Chapters 3 and 4 turn to the admission perspective, investigating the consequences of school choice on students' outcomes. Chapter 3 studies the effects on students' academic performance of admission to one type of selective schools, namely elite schools. Chapter 4 explores the mechanisms underlying these effects. The empirical analysis in each chapter of this dissertation is supported by administrative data from Tunisia.
With school choice comes the necessity to devise rules to decide who gets to enroll in a school or academic program when more students express the willingness to attend than the school's capacity allows. Centralized assignment mechanisms based on the deferred acceptance algorithm (DA) are used by school districts around the world to assign students to schools.
Theoretical analyses of the DA consider that students are allowed to list all the alternatives of the choice set in their application rankings. However, in virtually all places where these mechanisms are implemented, students are restricted to list only a small number of choices. As a consequence, students need to take their admission chances into account, and be strategic in their choice.
In Tunisia, high school graduates are assigned to university programs using a sequential variant of the DA. Chapter 2 use data on this Tunisian mechanism to empirically examine the effect of enabling students to update their expectations about their admissions probabilities.
The sequential implementation induces quasi-experimental variation in the information available to students about remaining vacancies, and allows for the identification of students' preferences and expected admission probabilities.
When students cannot revise their expectations, and relative to a benchmark situation in which students are given perfect information about which programs would admit them, their average indirect utility is decreased by the equivalent of a 41km-increase in the distance home-university ---40\% of the median distance traveled by students in the data. While easy to implement, the sequential implementation of the DA procedure reduces this expected utility loss by 67\% in Tunisia. The increase in expected welfare is driven by a decrease in the share of students rejected by all their listed choices. Gains disproportionately accrue to low-ability and low-SES students. Counterfactuals suggest that a better targeting of low-priority students by the information provision would increase welfare gains.
Underlying school choice is the idea that giving students and their family more freedom in their schooling decisions can improve academic outcomes.
Although documented in many papers, the impact of attending a better school on future achievement is unclear and varies greatly depending on the context. Chapter 3 examines the impact of being admitted to a high school with high achieving peers in Tunisia, particularly on post-secondary choices. The admission mechanism creates admission cutoffs that we exploit in a sharp regression discontinuity (RD) design. However, despite the validity of the RD design, sample selection and measurement error induce the standard RDD identification argument to fail, and the naive RD techniques to produce biased estimates. Chapter 3 proposes bounds for the local average and quantile treatment effects. Results suggest that admission to an elite high school increases students' end-of-high-school performance, and the selectivity level of post-secondary programs students in the higher end of the distribution get assigned to.
Chapter 4 investigates one type of mechanisms possibly driving the effect of selective high schools on students' outcomes: the change in educational inputs induced by admission to an elite school. To explore this mechanism, we link the students database to data on schools infrastructures and teachers. Allowing effects of admission to an elite high school to vary across the twelve Tunisian elite high school institutions, we evaluate the link between the magnitude of the treatment effects on students' outcomes, and the intensity with which treatment modifies various dimensions of the school environment. Results suggest that, although average teachers' quality and student monitoring are increased by admission to an elite high school, the higher peer achievement seems to be the main mediator of treatment effects on students' outcomes.
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