Working Paper Series

  • Reducing Student Absences at Scale

    Avi Feller, Todd Rogers

    Goldman School of Public Policy Working Paper (February 2016)

  • School Finance Reform and the Distribution of Student Achievement

    Jesse Rothstein, Julien Lafortune, Diane Whitmore Schanzenbach

    Goldman School of Public Policy Working Paper (February 2016)

    We study the impact of post-1990 school finance reforms, during the so-called “adequacy” era, on gaps in spending and achievement between high-income and low-income school districts. Using an event study design, we find that reform events—court orders and legislative reforms—lead to sharp, immediate, and sustained increases in absolute and relative spending in low-income school districts. Using representative samples from the National Assessment of Educational Progress, we also find that reforms cause gradual increases in the relative achievement of students in low-income school districts, consistent with the goal of improving educational opportunity for these students. The implied effect of school resources on educational achievement is large. 

  • The Effects of High-Skilled Immigration Policy on Firms: Evidence from Visa Lotteries (revise and resubmit, Journal of Political Economy)

    Alexander Gelber, Kirk Doran, Adam Isen

    Goldman School of Public Policy Working Paper (February 2016)

  • Why SNAP Matters

    Hilary Hoynes

    Goldman School of Public Policy Working Paper (January 2016)

  • The Measurement of Student Ability in Modern Assessment Systems

    Jesse Rothstein, Brian Jacob

    Goldman School of Public Policy Working Paper (January 2016)

  • Risk, Race, & Recidivism: Predictive Bias and Disparate Impact

    Jennifer Skeem, Christopher T. Lowenkamp

    Goldman School of Public Policy Working Paper (November 2015)

    One way to unwind mass incarceration without compromising public safety is to use risk assessment instruments in sentencing and corrections. These instruments figure prominently in current reforms, but controversy has begun to swirl around their use. The principal concern is that benefits in crime control will be offset by costs in social justice — a disparate and adverse effect on racial minorities and the poor. Based on a sample of 34,794 federal offenders, we empirically examine the relationships among race (Black vs. White), actuarial risk assessment (the Post Conviction Risk Assessment [PCRA]), and re-arrest (for any/violent crime). First, application of well-established principles of psychological science revealed no real evidence of test bias for the PCRA — the instrument strongly predicts re-arrest for both Black and White offenders and a given score has essentially the same meaning — i.e., same probability of recidivism — across groups. Second, Black offenders obtain modestly higher average scores on the PCRA than White offenders (d = .43; appx. 27% non-overlap in groups’ scores). So some applications of the PCRA could create disparate impact — which is defined by moral rather than empirical criteria. Third, most (69%) of the racial difference in PCRA scores is attributable to criminal history — which strongly predicts recidivism for both groups and is embedded in sentencing guidelines. Finally, criminal history is not a proxy for race — instead, it fully mediates the otherwise weak relationship between race and re-arrest. Data may be more helpful than rhetoric, if the goal is to improve practice at this opportune moment in history.

  • Social Experiments in the Labor Market

    Jesse Rothstein, Till von Wachter

    Goldman School of Public Policy Working Paper (November 2015)

    Large-scale social experiments were pioneered in labor economics, and are the basis for much of what we know about topics ranging from the effect of job training to incentives for job search to labor supply responses to taxation. Yet, many important questions about these topics require going beyond random assignment. This applies to questions pertaining to both internal and external validity, and includes effects on endogenously observed outcomes, such as wages and hours; spillover effects; site effects; heterogeneity in treatment effects; multiple and hidden treatments; and the mechanisms producing treatment effects. In this Chapter, we review the value and limitations of randomized social experiments in the labor market, with an emphasis on these design issues and approaches to addressing them. These approaches expand the range of questions that can be answered using experiments by combining experimental variation with econometric or theoretical assumptions. We also discuss efforts to build the means of answering these types of questions into the ex ante design of experiments. Our discussion yields an overview of the expanding toolkit available to experimental researchers.

  • Revisiting the Impacts of Teachers

    Jesse Rothstein

    Goldman School of Public Policy Working Paper (October 2015)

    Chetty, Friedman, and Rockoff (2014a and 2014b) study value-added (VA) measures of teacher effectiveness. Exploiting teacher switches as a sort of quasi-experiment, the first paper investigates potential bias from student sorting to teachers, and concludes that any such bias is negligible. The second paper finds that VA scores are useful proxies for teachers’ effects on students’ long-run outcomes. I successfully reproduce both sets of analyses and results in data from North Carolina. But I find that teacher switching is correlated with changes in student preparedness, leading quasi-experimental estimates to understate bias in VA scores. Estimates that adjust for this indicate moderate bias. The long-run effects results are sensitive to controls and cannot support strong conclusions.