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Three Essays on the Economics of Education

  • Author(s): Wright, Adam C.
  • Advisor(s): Startz, Richard
  • et al.
Abstract

This dissertation consists of three essays in applied microeconomics that investigate how teacher and student interactions affect human capital and skill accumulation. The first essay addresses the topic of how race and ethnicity affect teachers’ perceptions students’ behavior. African-American students are considerably more likely than their white peers to be rated as disruptive by their teacher and experience school discipline, but are also much less likely to have a teacher of the same race. This paper explores whether the racial or ethnic congruence of teachers and students affects teachers’ perceptions of students’ disruptive behavior and has larger consequences for student suspension rates. To identify the effect of racial interactions on teacher assessments, I estimate models that include both classroom and student fixed effects. I find that African-American students are rated as less disruptive when they have an African-American teacher, whereas perceptions of white and Hispanic students’ disruptiveness are unaffected by having a teacher of the same race or ethnicity. I also find that African-American students with more African-American teachers are suspended less often, suggesting the underrepresentation of African-American teachers has important implications for black-white gaps in school discipline.

The second essay, coauthored with Michael Gottfried and Vi-Nhuan Le, examines whether gaps in social-emotional skills between students of color and white students is smaller in classrooms with teachers of color. Our nation’s classrooms have become increasingly racially and ethnically diverse. Given these demographic changes, many policymakers and practitioners have expressed the need for increased attention to how teacher diversity might be linked to reducing racial/ethnic differences in teachers’ ratings of social-emotional skills for students of color. Using the most recent nationally representative data, we investigated whether kindergartners have different social-emotional ratings when they had a teacher whose racial/ethnic group was the same as their own. We found that having a teacher of the same race was unrelated to teachers’ ratings of children’s internalizing problem behaviors, interpersonal skills, approaches to learning, and self-control. However, students whose teachers’ race/ethnicity matched their own had more favorable ratings of externalizing behaviors. Results are discussed in terms of implications for school disciplinary policies.

In the third essay, I estimate spillovers of teachers from a selective alternative teacher certification program. The growing prevalence of teachers from selective alternative teacher certification programs has prompted research into how these teachers affect their own students’ performance. Little is known, however, about how the presence of this type of teacher might affect the performance of other teachers. This paper explores the extent to which the presence of teachers from a selective alternative certification program, Teach For America, affects grade-level student achievement in nearby grades. Using data from California elementary schools, I find that grades adjacent to Teach For America grades improve in both math and English as Teach For America presence increases.

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