Date of Award

Summer 8-2018

Degree Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Department

Economics

First Advisor

Dr. Tim Sass

Second Advisor

Dr. Kevin Fortner

Third Advisor

Dr. Barry Hirsch

Fourth Advisor

Dr. David Sjoquist

Abstract

This dissertation comprises essays that exploit geographic data in an effort to provide new causal evidence on three topics facing education policy makers.

Chapter 1 investigates the consequences of domestic violence exposure. I show that episodes of domestic violence cause a short-term increase in absences, but I do not find evidence that the events increase or decrease the number of disciplinary infractions, conditional on attending school. In addition, I measure spillovers to peers using plausibly exogenous daily and annual variation in peer group composition. In contrast to earlier research, my spillover results suggest that neither peers’ behavior nor their test scores are impacted.

Chapter 2 analyzes the relationship between longer student commutes and outcomes including attendance and achievement. I find little evidence of a marginal effect when adding an additional mile to a students’ commute on either academic achievement or attendance. In contrast to the null effects arising from a marginal increase in distance, I find robust evidence that being within walking distance to school affects attendance. Being able to walk to school increases attendance by 0.76 percentage points. It is not clear whether this increased attendance translates to higher achievement on annual exams. While point estimates are positive, the effects on achievement are not measured precisely enough to reject a null achievement effect.

Chapter 3 evaluates the effects of charter schools on New York City neighborhoods. Using unique New York City laws that impact geographical access to charter schools, I employ a new approach to identifying the causal effect of charter school entry on neighborhoods. I find that for every 10 percent increase in charter market share, neighborhood student achievement (i.e. students at both charter and traditional schools) increases 0.01 standard deviations in ELA and 0.04 standard deviations in Math. I find no evidence that charter schools causally reduce or improve achievement of students remaining in traditional public schools; however, charter schools do cause substantial sorting into the neighborhood’s schools, greater concentration of students with disabilities in traditional public schools, and selection by black and Hispanic students into more segregated schools.

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