Essays in Education and Politics
This dissertation explores three topics relating to education and politics. The first chapter examines gender gaps in test scores among top-scoring students. Recent research by Pope and Sydnor (2010) and Nosek et al. (2008) suggests that regions where individuals hold traditional gender stereotypes may have greater gender gaps. To explore this possibility, the current study examines whether five proxy variables for traditional gender stereotypes are correlated with greater gender gaps on math, science, and reading assessments. Using data from North Carolina, the results suggest that gender gaps on 5th and 8th grade state tests are strongly associated with the proportion of voters who supported a constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage. A one standard deviation increase in support for the amendment is associated with a 26 percent standard deviation increase in the 5th grade gender gap and a 31 percent standard deviation increase in the 8th grade gender gap. Other proxy variables for traditional gender stereotypes, such as the proportion of voters who supported the Republican Presidential candidate in 2012 and the proportion of religious adherents who are Evangelical, are not statistically significantly related to gender gaps.
The second chapter evaluates a one-to-one laptop program implemented by a North Carolina school district. The Digital Conversion Initiative provides all 4th through 12th grade students in the Mooresville Graded School District with a laptop for use at school and at home. Using administrative data on students in North Carolina, this paper analyzes the effect of the program on 4th through 8th grade reading and math assessments. The results suggest that the effect of the laptop program varies substantially depending on the grade in which students first received a laptop. The program had an impressive effect on test scores for students who received a laptop in 4th or 5th grades. Compared to students who were unexposed to the program, students who received a laptop in 4th grade scored 0.12 standard deviations higher on reading tests and 0.42 standard deviations higher on math tests after three years of the program. Students who received a laptop in 5th grade scored 0.22 standard deviations higher on reading tests and 0.09 standard deviations higher on math tests after three years than their unexposed peers. Meanwhile, the program had smaller effects on reading test scores and significant negative effects on math test scores for students who received a laptop in 6th or 7th grade. Compared to their unexposed peers, students who received a laptop in 6th grade scored 0.12 standard deviations lower on math tests after three years of exposure, and students who received a laptop in 7th grade scored 0.22 standard deviations lower on math tests after two years of exposure. These mixed results should serve as a warning to school districts, and to middle schools in particular, that are planning to launch one-to-one programs.
The third chapter explores whether state legislative candidates differ in their support for abortion bans and abstinence-only sex education programs based on the gender and age of their children. Previous research by Washington (2008) suggests that legislative candidates with daughters would be less likely to support abortion bans and abstinence-only sex education programs than candidates with only sons, but the present study finds that legislative candidates with daughters feel the same about abortion and abstinence-only sex education programs as their colleagues with only sons. This finding suggests that differences in legislators' views may not explain the differences in legislators' voting identified by Washington (2008). This paper also serves as a cautionary tale to researchers who may be quick to generalize the conclusions from prior work. Although the characteristics of legislators themselves produce robust differences in voting, it appears that the characteristics of legislators' children may only matter in some circumstances.
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