Essays on the Effects of Education Policies



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This dissertation consists of two studies on education policies and their effects. The first investigates the relationship between grade retention practices in U.S. public schools and the accountability criteria by which they are evaluated. Using a simple model of grade retention, I show that an administrator will retain students differently depending on the accountability ratings criteria he seeks to maximize. The model predicts that the adoption of ratings criteria based on year-to-year growth in within-student exam scores will reduce the number of students retained by an administrator on average and will dramatically reduce retention in the final grade of a school. I test the predictions of my framework using a novel panel dataset and an event study design. I find that about 18% fewer students are retained on average each year after at least six years of exposure to growth-based accountability criteria. I further find that administrators do retain significantly fewer students in the last grade offered by their schools. This paper is the first to show evidence that school administrators are willing to use retention as a tool for optimizing their schools' accountability ratings. The second study analyzes the effects of expanding access to education on individuals with heterogeneous pre-expansion levels of access. Using data from the 2014 round of the Kenya Demographic and Health Survey and a regression kink design, I find that a year of exposure to Kenya’s Free Primary Education policy causes small increases in educational attainment and literacy rate. I find a high degree of heterogeneity in the policy effect by probability of pre-policy enrollment. I estimate that among individuals belonging to ethnic groups with high pre-policy probability of primary school enrollment, the policy had little effect on educational attainment and literacy. Among individuals belonging to ethnic groups with low pre-policy probability of primary school enrollment, I find large positive effects on educational attainment and literacy. This research suggests that the policy increases both attainment and reading proficiency among underserved groups without reducing attainment or reading proficiency among students that would have been enrolled in the absence of the program.



Retention, Economics, Education, Accountability, Access, Literacy, Attainment