Essays on NYC High Schools
Over my Ph.D. study, I work on various projects about the school choice reform in New York City, with a special focus on understanding how students or parents choose high schools and evaluating education policies. Specifically, my dissertation consists of two essays: the first one aims to detect whether small schools are effective in improving students' academic performance; the second one measures how one's own school choice is affected by his or her neighbors.
In the first chapter, which is coauthored with Atila Abdulkadiroglu and Parag Pathak, We use assignment lotteries embedded in New York City's high school match to estimate the effects of attendance at a new small high school on student achievement. More than 150 unselective small high schools created between 2002 and 2008 have enhanced autonomy, but operate within-district with traditional public school teachers, principals, and collectively-bargained work rules. Lottery estimates show positive score gains in Mathematics, English, Science, and History, more
credit accumulation, and higher graduation rates. Small school attendance causes a substantial increase in college enrollment, with a marked shift to CUNY institutions. Students are also less likely to require remediation in reading and writing when at college. Detailed school surveys indicate that students at small schools are more engaged and closely monitored, despite fewer
course offerings and activities. Teachers report greater feedback, increased safety, and improved collaboration. The results show that school size is an important factor in education production
and highlight the potential for within-district reform strategies to substantially improve
In the second chapter, I use the exact home addresses and the complete high school application records to estimate neighborhood impact on the choice of high schools in the New York city. This paper converts home addresses to location coordinates and exploit that metric to rank students' neighbors by distance and estimate the marginal influence of the school choice of the immediate (ten nearest) neighbors relative to that of more distant neighbors. With the assumption that one's immediate neighbors are formed roughly randomly within the reference group, I find that students are 20\% more likely to rank the identical schools as their immediate neighbors than their more distant neighbors. The estimated effects are stronger among students with homogeneous ethnic and academic backgrounds. For a robustness check, I match the home addresses with the 2010 census data to group students into different census blocks and block groups. This alternative definition of neighborhood peers by census geographic boundaries further confirms the existence of social interactions on school choice. Further, I study if elder neighbors' experience of school choice benefits younger neighborhood peers. On one hand, information sharing can be beneficial: experience from older students improves their nearest neighbors' probability of being matched with their top choice. On the other hand, inefficient herding for students living in the less informed areas can be a disadvantage of neighborhood interactions.
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