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Essays in the Economics of Education


This dissertation consists of three papers on the economics of education. All pertain to the notion of higher- or lower-achieving schools, in some way.

Chapter 1 estimates the magnitude by which the achievement level of a student’s high school affects college admissions once students make the decision to apply. Using administrative data from the University of California, I find a significant negative association between a school’s overall achievement level and the probability of admission at 5 out of 8 UC campuses between 2001–2006, including 5 of the 6 most selective. The average magnitude across all UC campuses is about -0.8 percentage points for a one-decile increase in school-average achievement.

Chapter 2 uses lottery data from San Diego Unified School District to study the long-term effects of school choice on students’ postsecondary outcomes. This paper contributes to the school choice literature by being among the first to focus on postsecondary enrollment and graduation, rather than nearer-term outcomes such as standardized test scores in the immediate years following the lottery.

Despite large effects on what secondary schools students attend, we find mostly insignificant effects on postsecondary enrollment and graduation outcomes from winning a school choice lottery.

Chapter 3 examines the sensitivity of school value-added estimates to the methodology used. Education scholars frequently use “value-added” models to assess schools’ effectiveness. Yet there are many variations of the model that scholars sometimes use, which may affect corresponding results. Using a menu of three model classes and three control specifications each—for a total of 9 specifications—we find a relatively modest sensitivity to the control specification, and a somewhat greater sensitivity to the class of value-added model. Precision appears sensitive to the inclusion of school-level controls and whether researchers use panel instrument techniques to address dynamic panel bias. We also observe a moderate positive correlation between value-added estimates and schools’ average levels of test scores.

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