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Essays on Education Policy and Criminal Behavior

  • Author(s): Shepard, Asha;
  • Advisor(s): Dobkin, Carlos;
  • et al.

This dissertation studies the effect of education policies on the behavior of individuals—particularly the criminal behavior of juveniles.

The first chapter of this dissertation, "School Entry and Criminal Behavior", examines the effect of an education policy that affects when children are allowed to begin school on their likelihood of committing crime later in life. Children whose birthdays fall just before the school entry cutoff are the youngest in their cohort for their entire education. A large literature documents that, among other things, the youngest students in a classroom have lower test scores, are more likely to be held back, and are more likely to be diagnosed with ADHD. This paper investigates if being the youngest in a cohort has an impact on an individual's propensity to commit crime. I use records for over 4 million arrests spanning a 20-year period in California to assess if being the youngest in a school cohort increases the likelihood of being arrested at any point between the early teen and young adult years. Overall, I find no effect on the probability of arrest for serious crimes and no persistent effect for less serious crimes. However, the youngest students in a cohort have a higher risk of arrest for certain offenses at age 14, corresponding to the age at which they would transition to high school. This may reflect the influence of school setting, peer group composition, and monitoring standards on behavior and the probability of arrest.

The second chapter of this dissertation, "School Quality, Student Performance, and Behavior", examines the effect of an education policy that places low-performing schools on probation on the school's academic progress and student misbehavior. School districts and state education boards across the U.S. have implemented school accountability systems in order to identify which schools may need to be improved. I use an accountability system implemented by Chicago Public Schools (CPS) which placed schools on probation if they failed to reach a certain performance level based on a combination of test scores, attendance, and student growth. Schools that are placed on probation and do not show improvement may face sanctions that include principal removal, staff turnaround, or school closure. I find that schools that receive low enough performance ratings to be placed on probation in one year show slightly more improvement in their performance in the following year relative to schools that just miss being placed on probation. That is, schools that received low performance ratings increased their rating in the next year by 3 more percentage points than schools that were not placed on probation. However, this difference was generally not large enough or sustained for long enough for many schools to get off of probation. Given the nature of these schools, this is potentially a resource issue as many of these schools are in poor, urban settings. From a behavior standpoint, I do not find evidence that receiving poor performance ratings has any effect on changes in student misconduct across the probation threshold.

The third chapter of this dissertation, "The Effect of School Year Length on Juvenile Crime", examines the effect of a shortened school year on juvenile crime. As a result of the Great Recession during the late 2000s and early 2010s, many public sector employees were subject to mandatory work furloughs due to budgetary shortfalls. In order to alleviate the effects of the recession, public schools in California instituted work furloughs, which in effect decreased the number of days students would attend school. Specifically, schools were allowed to shorten their school year by five to twelve days. Given that a shorter school year implies that students will be in school less often, there may be changes in their behavior stemming from the incapacitation effect of attending school. Literature has shown that juveniles are less likely to commit property crime while in school due to a higher probability of detection and more likely to commit violent crime due higher concentrations of juveniles on school grounds. This paper examines the effect of a shortened school year on juvenile criminal behavior. I find that decreasing the amount of school days in the school year has no significant impact on juvenile arrests. This result may be explained by the overall decrease in juvenile crime over the past 20 years, as opposed to school year length changes having no effect on juvenile criminal behavior.

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