- Paul E. Peterson
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Paul E. Peterson
Rising inequality in the United States has raised concerns about potentially widening gaps in educational achievement by socio-economic status (SES). Using assessments from LTT-NAEP, Main-NAEP, TIMSS, and PISA that are psychometrically linked over time, we trace trends in achievement for U.S. student cohorts born between 1954 and 2001. Achievement gaps between the top and bottom quartiles of the SES distribution have been large and remarkably constant for a near half century. These unwavering gaps have not been offset by improved achievement levels, which have risen at age 14 but have remained unchanged at age 17 for the past quarter century.
To estimate whether information can close socioeconomic gaps in parents’ aspirations for their child’s postsecondary education, we administer a four-armed survey experiment to a nationally representative sample of U.S. parents. After respondents estimate costs of and returns to further education, we ask whether they prefer that their child pursue a four-year degree, a two-year degree, or no further education. Before this question is posed, the treated are first told (1) the net annual costs of pursuing a four-year and two-year degree in their state, (2) the annual returns to four-year and two-year degrees as compared to no further education in their local area, or (3) both costs and returns. We find that information lowers aspirations overall and widens socioeconomic aspiration gaps. These effects do not vary with the magnitude of error between estimated and actual costs and returns. However, we find positive impacts on aspirations among parents who think their child is academically prepared for college.
Tiebout theorizes that local public services are provided more efficiently if costs are paid out of local revenues rather than by inter-governmental grants. But if local politics is not as pluralistic as Dahl has argued, citizens of higher socio-economic status will exercise greater influence, resulting in higher inequalities in service provision. We use administrative data to estimate the impacts of local revenue shares on individual performance of a nationally representative sample of over 140,000 U.S. eighth graders in math and reading. Causal effects are estimated with geographic discontinuity models and 2SLS models that use change in housing prices as an instrument. For every 10 percent increase in local revenue share, students perform about 0.05 standard deviations higher. Gains from local funding are less for disadvantaged students. Local financing affords better education for all but widens achievement gaps.
Estimates of school voucher impacts on educational attainment have yet to explore heterogeneities in socioeconomic status among disadvantaged minority students. We theorize reasons for these heterogeneities and then estimate experimentally the differential impacts of voucher offers on college enrollment and graduation rates for minority and non-immigrant students from moderately and severely disadvantaged backgrounds. The findings are obtained from a privately sponsored, lottery-based voucher intervention in New York City that began in 1997. College enrollment and degree attainment as of the fall of 2017 were obtained from the National Student Clearinghouse. We find no significant effects of offers on minority students from severely disadvantaged backgrounds but significant effects of six to eight percentage points on those from moderately disadvantaged households. Similar results are obtained for students born of non-immigrant mothers. Some policy implications are discussed.