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Essays in economics of education

De Philippis, Marta (2016) Essays in economics of education. PhD thesis, London School of Economics and Political Science.

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This thesis studies aspects related to the role of schools characteristics and their governance on students’ learning outcomes. The thesis contains three chapters. The first chapter explores the effect of exposing students to more science in high school on their enrolment and persistence in STEM majors at university. It exploits the different timing in the implementation of a reform that induced high schools in the UK to offer more science to high ability 14 year-old children. The findings show that a stronger science curriculum at high school increases the probability of enrolling and of graduating in a STEM major at university. Moreover, the effect masks substantial gender heterogeneity. It is indeed mostly concentrated on boys. Girls tend to choose more scientific subjects, but still the most female-dominated ones: they choose medicine, not engineering. The second chapter of this thesis analyses the effects of providing strong research incentives to university professors on the way they allocate effort between teaching and research and on the way they select into different types of universities. I find evidence that teaching and research efforts are substitute in the professors’ cost function: the impact of research incentives is positive on research activity and negative on teaching performance. Effects are stronger for young faculty members, who are exposed not only to monetary incentives but also to career concerns. Moreover, I find that less skilled researchers tend to leave the university under stronger research incentives. Since I estimate that teaching and research skills are positively correlated, this implies that also bad teachers tend to leave the university. The overall impact of stronger research incentives on the university teaching quality is therefore ambiguous: the negative effect on teaching performance for incumbent professors is compensated by the positive sorting effect, given by changes in the composition of teachers. The third chapter explores where do the large cross-country differences in students’ performances in international standardized tests come from. This chapter argues that, while most of the debate concentrates on country differences in the school systems, differences in cultural environments and parental inputs are instead of great importance. I show indeed that the school performance of second generation immigrants is closely related to the average one of native students who still study in their parents’ countries of origin. This holds true even after accounting for different family background characteristics, different schools attended and different patterns of selection into immigration. This pattern questions whether PISA scores should be interpreted only as a quality measure for a country’s educational system. They actually contain an important intergenerational and cultural component. Parental inputs are found indeed to explain a large part of the cross country variation in school performance, for instance they account for more than one third of the gap between East Asia and other regions.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Additional Information: © 2016 Marta De Philippis
Library of Congress subject classification: H Social Sciences > HC Economic History and Conditions
Sets: Departments > Economics
Supervisor: Pischke, Jorn-Steffen

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