Peer-reviewed articles and books from affiliated faculty and IRLE Center staff.
When Mandates Work, Michael Reich, Ken Jacobs, and Miranda Dietz, eds. University of California Press. January 2014.
- Starting in the 1990s, San Francisco launched a series of bold but relatively unknown public policy experiments to improve wages and benefits for thousands of local workers. Since then, scholars have documented the effects of those policies on compensation, productivity, job creation, and health coverage. Opponents predicted a range of negative impacts, but the evidence tells a decidedly different tale. This book brings together that evidence for the first time, reviews it as a whole, and considers its lessons for local, state, and federal policymakers.
Journal of Human Resources 48(3):510-544. Summer 2013.
- Analysts often examine the black-white test score gap conditional on current family income. We describe a method for identifying the gap conditional on the family’s permanent income. Current income explains only about half as much of the black-white test gap as does permanent income, and the gap among families with the same permanent income is only 0.2 to 0.3 standard deviations in two commonly used samples. When we add permanent income to the controls used by Fryer and Levitt (2006), the unexplained gap in third grade shrinks below 0.15 SDs, less than half of what is found with their controls.
Think Tank Review, National Education Policy Center, Boulder Colorado. January 2013.
- The Gates Foundation’s Measures of Effective Teaching (MET) project was a multi-year study of thousands of teachers in six school districts that concluded in January 2013. This review addresses two of the final MET research papers. One paper uses random assignment to test for bias in teachers’ value-added scores. The experimental protocol was compromised, however, when many students did not remain with the teachers to whom researchers had assigned them; other students and teachers did not participate at all. This prevents conclusive answers to the questions of interest. The second paper examines how best to combine value-added scores, classroom observations, and student surveys in teacher evaluations. The data do not support the MET project’s premise that all three primarily reflect a single general teaching factor, nor do the data support the project’s conclusion that the three should be given roughly equal weight. Rather, each measure captures a distinct component of teaching. Evaluating teachers requires judgments about which components are the most important, judgments that are not much informed by the MET’s masses of data. While the MET project has brought unprecedented vigor to teacher evaluation research, its results do not settle disagreements about what makes an effective teacher and offer little guidance about how to design real-world teacher evaluation systems.
Industrial and Labor Relations Review 65(3):467-500. June 2012.
- Four years after the beginning of the Great Recession, the labor market remains historically weak. Many observers have concluded that “structural” impediments to recovery bear some of the blame. The author reviews such structural explanations, but after analyzing U.S. data on unemployment and productivity, he finds there is little evidence supporting these hypotheses. He finds that the bulk of the evidence is more consistent with the hypothesis that continued poor performance is primarily attributable to shortfalls in the aggregate demand for labor.
Phi Delta Kappan 93(6):8-15. March 2012.
- Popular modes of evaluating teachers are fraught with inaccuracies and inconsistencies, but the field has identified better approaches.
Estudios de Economía Aplicada, 30(1). 2012.
- The surprising increase in U.S. unemployment in the Great Recession and the persistence of long-term unemployment in the economic recovery pose important questions for employment policy. Why did unemployment grow more than forecast? Is the character of long-term unemployment the result of cyclical or structural causes? I discuss eight policy changes that would reduce the ranks of the unemployed and that would improve the efficiency of the labor market. Most of these proposals do not add big-ticket items to the Federal budget; their merits are independent of the question of how large the federal deficit should be at this time.
Brookings Papers on Economic Activity, 143-210. Fall 2011.
- More than 2 years after the official end of the Great Recession, the labor market remains historically weak. One candidate explanation is supply-side effects driven by dramatic expansions of unemployment insurance (UI) benefit durations, to as long as 99 weeks. This paper investigates the effect of these extensions on job search and reemployment. I use the longitudinal structure of the Current Population Survey to construct unemployment exit hazards that vary across states, over time, and between individuals with differing unemployment durations. I then use these hazards to explore a variety of comparisons intended to distinguish the effects of UI extensions from other determinants of employment outcomes. The various specifications yield quite similar results. UI extensions had significant but small negative effects on the probability that the eligible unemployed would exit unemployment. These effects are concentrated among the long-term unemployed. The estimates imply that UI extensions raised the unemployment rate in early 2011 by only about 0.1 to 0.5 percentage point, much less than implied by previous analyses, with at least half of this effect attributable to reduced labor force exit among the unemployed rather than to the changes in reemployment rates that are of greater policy concern.
Industrial Relations: A Journal of Economy and Society 50(2):205-240. April 2011.
- Traditional estimates that often find minimum wage disemployment effects include controls for state unemployment rates and state- and year-fixed effects. Using CPS data on teens for the period 1990–2009, we show that such estimates fail to account for heterogeneous employment patterns that are correlated with selectivity among states with minimum wages. As a result, the estimates are often biased and not robust to the source of identifying variation. Including controls for long-term growth differences among states and for heterogeneous economic shocks renders the employment and hours elasticities indistinguishable from zero and rules out any but very small disemployment effects. Dynamic evidence further shows the nature of bias in traditional estimates, and it also rules out all but very small negative long-run effects. In addition, we do not find evidence that employment effects vary in different parts of the business cycle. We also consider predictable versus unpredictable changes in the minimum wage by looking at the effects of state indexation of the minimum wage.
Journal of Public Economics 95(1-2):149-163. February 2011.
- In the early 2000s, a highly selective university introduced a “no-loans” policy under which the loan component of financial aid awards was replaced with grants. We use this natural experiment to identify the causal effect of student debt on employment outcomes. In the standard life-cycle model, young people make optimal educational investment decisions if they are able to finance these investments by borrowing against future earnings; the presence of debt has only income effects on investment decisions. We find that debt causes graduates to choose substantially higher-salary jobs and reduces the probability that students choose low-paid “public interest” jobs. We also find some evidence that debt affects students’ academic decisions during college. Our estimates suggest that recent college graduates are not life-cycle agents. Two potential explanations are that young workers are credit constrained or that they are averse to holding debt. We find suggestive evidence that debt reduces students’ donations to the institution in the years after they graduate and increases the likelihood that a graduate will default on a pledge made during her senior year; we argue this result is more likely consistent with credit constraints than with debt aversion.
Think Tank Review, National Education Policy Center, Boulder Colorado. January 2011.
- The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation’s “Measures of Effective Teaching” (MET) Project seeks to validate the use of a teacher’s estimated “value-added”—computed from the year-on-year test score gains of her students—as a measure of teaching effectiveness. Using data from six school districts, the initial report examines correlations between student survey responses and value- added scores computed both from state tests and from higher-order tests of conceptual understanding. The study finds that the measures are related, but only modestly. The report interprets this as support for the use of value-added as the basis for teacher evaluations. This conclusion is unsupported, as the data in fact indicate that a teacher’s value-added for the state test is not strongly related to her effectiveness in a broader sense. Most notably, value-added for state assessments is correlated 0.5 or less with that for the alternative assessments, meaning that many teachers whose value-added for one test is low are in fact quite effective when judged by the other. As there is every reason to think that the problems with value-added measures apparent in the MET data would be worse in a high-stakes environment, the MET results are sobering about the value of student achievement data as a significant component of teacher evaluations.
Neighborhood and Life Chances: How Place Matters in Modern America, Harriet B. Newburger, Eugenie Birch and Susan Wachter, eds. University of Pennsylvania Press. 2011.
- A great deal of urban policy depends on the possibility of creating stable, economically and racially mixed neighborhoods. Many social interaction models – including the seminal Schelling (1971) model – have the feature that the only stable equilibria are fully segregated. These models suggest that if home-buyers have preferences over their neighborhoods’ racial composition, a neighborhood with mixed racial composition is inherently unstable, in the sense that a small change in the composition sets off a dynamic process that converges to either 0% or 100% minority share. Card, Mas, and Rothstein (2008) outline an alternative “one-sided” tipping model in which neighborhoods with a minority share below a critical threshold are potentially stable, but those that exceed the threshold rapidly shift to 100% minority composition. In this paper we examine the racial dynamics of Census tracts in major metropolitan areas over the period from 1970 to 2000, focusing on the question of whether tipping is “two-sided” or “one-sided”. The evidence suggests that tipping behavior is one-sided, and that neighborhoods with minority shares below the tipping point attract both white and minority residents.
Review of Economics and Statistics, 92(4):945-964. November, 2010.
- We use policy discontinuities at state borders to identify the effects of minimum wages on earnings and employment in restaurants and other low-wage sectors. Our approach generalizes the case study method by considering all local differences in minimum wage policies between 1990 and 2006. We compare all contiguous county pairs in the United States that straddle a state border and find no adverse employment effects. We show that traditional approaches that do not account for local economic conditions tend to produce spurious negative effects due to spatial heterogeneities in employment trends that are unrelated to minimum wage policies. Our findings are robust to allowing for long-term effects of minimum wage changes.
Monthly Labor Review, 133(10):3-18. US Bureau of Labor Statistics. October 2010.
- The share of unemployment accounted for by long-term unemployment has risen higher following the 2007–09 recession than following any other recent recession, and the makeup of the labor force, the unemployed, and the long-term unemployed has changed substantially since 1983
Quarterly Journal of Economics, 125 (1):215-261. February 2010.
- Despite extensive public infrastructure spending, surprisingly little is known about its economic return. In this paper, we estimate the value of school facility investments using housing markets: standard models of local public goods imply that school districts should spend up to the point where marginal increases would have zero effect on local housing prices. Our research design isolates exogenous variation in investments by comparing school districts where referenda on bond issues targeted to fund capital expenditures passed and failed by narrow mar- gins. We extend this traditional regression discontinuity approach to identify the dynamic treatment effects of bond authorization on local housing prices, student achievement, and district composition. Our results indicate that California school districts underinvest in school facilities: passing a referendum causes immedi- ate, sizable increases in home prices, implying a willingness to pay on the part of marginal homebuyers of $1.50 or more for each $1 of capital spending. These effects do not appear to be driven by changes in the income or racial composition of homeowners, and the impact on test scores appears to explain only a small portion of the total housing price effect.
American Economic Journal: Economic Policy, 2(1):177-208. February 2010.
- The Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) is intended to encourage work. But EITC-induced in- creases in labor supply may drive wages down, shifting the intended transfer toward employers. I simulate the economic incidence of the EITC under a range of plausible supply and demand elasticities. In all of the scenarios that I consider, a substantial portion of the intended transfer to low income single mothers is captured by employers through reduced wages. The transfer to employers is borne in part by low skill workers who are not themselves eligible for the EITC and are therefore made strictly worse off by its existence. I contrast the EITC with a traditional Negative Income Tax (NIT). The NIT discourages work, and so induces large transfers from employers of low skill labor to their workers. With my preferred parameters the EITC increases after-tax incomes by $0.73 per dollar spent, while the NIT yields $1.39.
Quarterly Journal of Economics 125(1):175-214. February 2010.
- Growing concerns over the inadequate achievement of U.S. students have led to proposals to reward good teachers and penalize (or fire) bad ones. The leading method for assessing teacher quality is “value added” modeling (VAM), which decomposes students’ test scores into components attributed to student heterogeneity and to teacher quality. Implicit in the VAM approach are strong assumptions about the nature of the educational production function and the assignment of students to classrooms. In this paper, I develop falsification tests for three widely used VAM specifications, based on the idea that future teachers cannot influence students’ past achievement. In data from North Carolina, each of the VAMs’ exclusion restrictions is dramatically violated. In particular, these models indicate large “effects” of fifth grade teachers on fourth grade test score gains. I also find that conventional measures of individual teachers’ value added fade out very quickly and are at best weakly related to long-run effects. I discuss implications for the use of VAMs as personnel tools.
Berkeley Planning Journal, 23(1):166-177. 2010.
- Economic crisis makes for compelling stories: coming back from lunch to find the office emptied out, planting backyard vegetable gardens, walking away from their foreclosed homes. The crisis thus becomes a series of tales of individual suffering, resilience, hard luck and fresh starts.
Such narratives of crisis permit certain kinds of discourse to become normalized: discourses about the need for wholesale change, for desperate measures, for painful adjustment, for facing reality. As their plots reveal conventional ideas about the roots of the crisis, they also become stories about particular forms of recovery. Such stories help to justify, frame, and naturalize arguments about what the future holds and what responses are necessary. As a planner, I find myself wondering which pieces of this conventional wisdom will be quoted in urban plans and development pitches. How will these stories shape discourse about what’s necessary for American cities to “win”?
Education Finance and Policy, 4(4):537-571. Fall 2009.
- Nonrandom assignment of students to teachers can bias value-added estimates of teachers’ causal effects. Rothstein (2008, 2010) shows that typical value-added models indicate large counterfactual effects of fifth- grade teachers on students’ fourth-grade learning, indi- cating that classroom assignments are far from random. This article quantifies the resulting biases in estimates of fifth-grade teachers’ causal effects from several value- added models, under varying assumptions about the assignment process. If assignments are assumed to de- pend only on observables, the most commonly used specifications are subject to important bias, but other feasible specifications are nearly free of bias. I also con- sider the case in which assignments depend on unob- served variables. I use the across-classroom variance of observables to calibrate several models of the sort- ing process. Results indicate that even the best feasible value-added models may be substantially biased, with the magnitude of the bias depending on the amount of information available for use in classroom assignments.
Economics of Education Review, 28(3):295-307. June 2009.
- Data from college admissions tests can provide a valuable measure of student achievement, but the non-representativeness of test-takers is an important concern. We examine selectivity bias in both state-level and school-level SAT and ACT averages. The degree of selectivity may differ importantly across and within schools, and across and within states. To identify within-state selectivity, we use a control function approach that conditions on scores from a representative test. Estimates indicate strong selectivity of test-takers in “ACT states,” where most college-bound students take the ACT, and much less selectivity in SAT states. To identify within- and between-school selectivity, we take advantage of a policy reform in Illinois that made taking the ACT a graduation requirement. Estimates based on this policy change indicate substantial positive selection into test participation both across and within schools. Despite this, school-level averages of observed scores are extremely highly correlated with average latent scores, as across-school variation in sample selectivity is small relative to the underlying signal. As a result, in most contexts the use of observed school mean test scores in place of latent means understates the degree of between-school variation in achievement but is otherwise unlikely to lead to misleading conclusions.
University of Chicago Law Review, 75(2):649-714. Spring 2008.
Quarterly Journal of Economics, 123(1):177-218. February 2008.
- Schelling (“Dynamic Models of Segregation,” Journal of Mathematical Sociology 1 (1971), 143–186) showed that extreme segregation can arise from social interactions in white preferences: once the minority share in a neighborhood exceeds a “tipping point,” all the whites leave. We use regression discontinuity methods and Census tract data from 1970 through 2000 to test for discontinuities in the dynamics of neighborhood racial composition. We find strong evidence that white population flows exhibit tipping-like behavior in most cities, with a distribution of tipping points ranging from 5% to 20% minority share. Tipping is prevalent both in the suburbs and near existing minority enclaves. In contrast to white population flows, there is little evidence of nonlinearities in rents or housing prices around the tipping point. Tipping points are higher in cities where whites have more tolerant racial attitudes.
California Public Employee Relations Journal, 128:13-21. February 2008.
- As public employees, elementary and secondary school teachers have the enormous responsibility of educating our youth,and much hinges on their success.Teacher quality is the most important input schools contribute to the academic success of their students.1 The ability of school officials to recruit and retain highly effective classroom teachers is a struggle in many school districts throughout the United States. For decades now, a small and declining fraction of the most cognitively skilled graduates choose to become teachers,2 while rigorous national standards and school-based accountability for student performance have pushed the demand for talented teachers to an all-time high.
Prolific career opportunities have made it increasingly difficult to attract the best and the brightest into the profession. Professional women, historically afforded limited choices outside of teaching, have increasingly diverse career prospects. Attractive pay and compensation structures are part of the appeal of these ever- expanding opportunities. For this reason, it is important to ask whether teacher pay has kept up with that of other professions available to college graduates today. This article presents empirical evidence from several sources that documents relative teacher pay in a present and historical context.
Journal of Public Economics, 91(11-12):2158-2184. December 2007.
- Racial segregation is often blamed for some of the achievement gap between blacks and whites. We study the effects of school and neighborhood segregation on the relative SAT scores of black students across different metropolitan areas, using large microdata samples for the 1998-2001 test cohorts. Our models include detailed controls for the family background of individual test-takers, school-level controls for selective participation in the test,and city-level controls for racial composition, income, and region. We find robust evidence that the black-white test score gap is higher in more segregated cities. Holding constant family background and other factors, a shift from a highly segregated city to a nearly integrated city closes about one- quarter of the raw black-white gap in SAT scores. Specifications that distinguish between school and neighborhood segregation suggest that neighborhood segregation has a consistently negative impact while school segregation has no independent effect, though we cannot reject equality of the two effects. Additional tests indicate that much of the effect of neighborhood segregation operates through neighbors’ incomes, not through race per se. Data on enrollment in honors courses suggest that within-school segregation increases when schools are more highly integrated, potentially offsetting the benefits of school desegregation and accounting for our findings.
American Economic Review, 97(5):2026-2037. December 2007.
Industrial and Labor Relations Review 60(4):522-543. July 2007. Cornell University, School of Industrial & Labor Relations.
- This paper presents the first study of the economic effects of a citywide minimum wage— San Francisco’s adoption of a minimum wage, set at $8.50 in 2004 and $9.14 by 2007. Compared to earlier benchmark studies by Card and Krueger and by Neumark and Wascher, this study surveys table-service as well as fast-food restaurants, includes more control groups, and collects data for more outcomes. The authors find that the policy increased worker pay and compressed wage inequality, but did not create any detectable employment loss among affected restaurants. The authors also find smaller amounts of measurement error than characterized the earlier studies, and so they can reject previous negative employment estimates with greater confidence. Fast-food and table-service restaurants responded differently to the policy, with a small price increase and substantial increases in job tenure and in the proportion of full-time workers among fast-food restaurants, but not among table-service restaurants.