Education Research

Economic papers about education (CPB part 2)

This is a follow-up post from this post in which I unpicked one part of large education review. In that post I covered aspects of papers by Vardardottir, Kim, Wang and Duflo. In this post I cover another papers in that section (page 201).

Booij, A.S., E. Leuven en H. Oosterbeek, 2015, Ability Peer Effects in University: Evidence
from a Randomized Experiment, IZA Discussion Paper 8769.
This is a discussion paper from the IZA series. This is a high quality series of working papers, but this -of course- is not yet a peer-reviewed journal version. Maybe there is one at the moment but clearly this version was used for the review. Previously I had already noticed there could be considerable differences between working papers and the final version, just see Vardardottir’s evaluation of Duflo et al.’s paper.
The paper concerns undergraduate economics students. Of course a first observation would be that it might be difficult to generalize wider than ‘economics undergraduates from a general university in the Netherlands’. Towards the end it is however argued that together with other papers (Duflo, Carrell) a pattern results is emerging. The first main result is in Table 4.
The columns show how the models were built. Column (1) has the basic model with only the mean of peers’ Grade Point Average (GPA) and ‘randomization controls’ are included. Column (2) adds controls like ‘gender’, ‘age’ and ‘professional college’. Column (3) adds the Standard Deviation (SD) of peers’ GPA in a tutorial group. Columns (1) to (3) do not show any effect. Only in column (4), where non-linear terms and an interaction are added, some significant variables appear. This can be seen by the **. The main result seems rather borderline, but ok, in the context of ability grouping it is Table 5 that is more interesting.
trackingIn that table different tracking scenarios are studied. The first column is overall effects compared to ‘mixed’, so this looks at the ‘system’ as a whole. Columns (2) to (4) show the differentiated effects. From this table I would deduce:
  • In two-way tracking lower ability gain a little bit (10% significance in my book is not significant), higher ability gain a little bit (borderline 5%)
  • Three way tracking: middle and low gain some, high doesn’t.
  • Track Low: low gains, middle more (hypothesis less held back?), high doesn’t.
  • Track Middle: only middle gains (low slightly negative but not significant!)
  • Separate high ability: no one gains.

This is roughly the same as what is described in the article on page 20. The paper then also addresses average grade and dropout. Actually, the paper goes into many more things (teachers, for example) which I will not cover. It is interesting to look at the conclusions, and especially the abstract. I think the abstract follows from the data, although I would not have said “students of low and medium ability gain on average 0.2 SD units of achievement from switching from ability mixing to three-way tracking.” because it seems 0.20 and 0.18 respectively (so 19% as mentioned in the main body text). Only a minor quibble, which after querying, I heard has been changed in the final version. I found the discussion very limited. It is noted that in different contexts (Duflo, Carrell) roughly similar results are obtained (but see my notes on Duflo).

Overall, I find this an interesting paper which does what it says on the tin (bar some tiny comments). Together with my previous comments, though, I would still be weary about the specific contexts.



By cbokhove

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