Committee ChairOaxaca, Ronald
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PublisherThe University of Arizona.
RightsCopyright © is held by the author. Digital access to this material is made possible by the University Libraries, University of Arizona. Further transmission, reproduction or presentation (such as public display or performance) of protected items is prohibited except with permission of the author.
AbstractThis dissertation includes three essays investigating the economics of education. The first two essays consider how English language learner programs should be structured to benefit the general education of students. The third essay considers how school choice reforms affect student outcomes on standardized exams. The first essay considers the effect of a Structured English Immersion program on the test score and graduation outcomes of high school English language learning students. It is unclear how to best educate English language learning (ELL) students and integrate them with the general student population. In particular, there is a question of whether it is better for ELL students to be placed in classrooms with only other ELL students and material focused on making ELL students proficient in English, or whether it is better to keep ELL students among their English proficient peers as much as possible to expedite their integration into mainstream classrooms. I use regression discontinuity methods with a student-level data set from the state of Arizona to analyze whether enrollment in an ELL program that requires intensive instruction in English away from mainstream peers is effective in improving graduation and test score outcomes for high-school ELL students. While proponents of the curriculum argued that the language skills acquired in the program would prepare students to succeed in their general education, there were concerns that the program could discourage students because of their isolation from other mainstream peers, leading to worsened outcomes. The results indicate that enrollment in the program had no effect on standardized reading and math exams, nor graduation rates. These results suggest that while other curricula should be explored for improving the outcomes of ELL students, ELL programs focused on intensive instruction in English will likely not induce worse outcomes for ELL students. The second essay considers the effect of the four hour Structured English Immersion program on students who are already proficient in English. Again, the intention of the four hour SEI policy was to help students become proficient in English as quickly as possible so that they can avoid falling behind their peers in general curriculum. Though it is important to understand the efficacy of the program for ELL students, it is also important to consider the effect of the policy on students already proficient in English. While hypothetically there are a number of channels through which the policy implementation could have affected non-ELL student outcomes (i.e.disruption from re-arrangement of school resources), one particular channel of interest is classroom peer group composition (in terms of language proficiency), which was altered substantially for many students as a result of the program. Using student-level data, I investigate whether non-ELL students at schools with high levels ELL student enrollment experienced gains in standardized math and reading exams. While non-ELL students at schools with greater levels of ELL enrollment made gains in reading passing rates relative to non-ELL students at schools with lower rates of ELL enrollment after the introduction of the 4-hour SEI model, there is evidence that this was part of a larger trend in student performance taking place before the introduction of the 4-hour SEI model, though some analysis suggests that the policy change led to improvements for non-ELL students.The third essay considers the effects of charter schools on student achievement at traditional public schools. Charter school proponents argue that traditional public schools will work to improve their operations and management in order to maintain enrollment when charter schools are allowed to compete for students. I use a new, student-level panel data set to estimate the effect of charter schools on academic achievement at traditional public schools. In addition to including student and school fixed-effects in the analysis, I utilize an instrumental variables strategy that uses local building stock to account for endogenous charter school location decisions. Furthermore, I investigate the effect of charter schools in the context of open enrollment, a policy meant in part to increase inter-district competition. This analysis includes the examination of whether or not there are heterogeneous effects of charter schools on traditional public schools exposed to different levels of inter-district competition, and allows me to consider whether or not policies meant to increase competition between traditional public schools could be effective substitutes for allowing charter schools to operate. I find that charter schools have a positive and statistically significant effect on the reading scores of students at traditional public schools, and I do not find evidence that suggests that policies meant to increase competition between traditional public schools could be effective substitutes for charter schools. The results from this study indicate that allowing charter schools to operate can be an effective mechanism for improving student achievement at traditional public schools when charter schools are allowed financial and operational autonomy.
Degree ProgramGraduate College