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Conditional cash penalties in education: Evidence from the learnfare experiment

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  • Thomas Dee

Abstract

Wisconsin’s influential Learnfare initiative is a conditional cash penalty program that sanctions a family’s welfare grant when covered teens fail to meet school attendance targets. In the presence of reference-dependent preferences, Learnfare provides uniquely powerful financial incentives for student performance. However, a 10-county random-assignment evaluation suggested that Learnfare had no sustained effects on school enrollment and attendance. This study evaluates the data from this randomized field experiment. In Milwaukee County, the Learnfare procedures were poorly implemented and the random-assignment process failed to produce balanced baseline traits. However, in the nine remaining counties, Learnfare increased school enrollment by 3.7 percent (effect size = 0.08) and attendance by 4.5 percent (effect size = 0.10). The hypothesis of a common treatment effect sustained throughout the six-semester study period could not be rejected. These effects were larger among subgroups at risk for dropping out of school (e.g., baseline dropouts, those over age for grade). For example, these heterogeneous treatment effects imply that Learnfare closed the enrollment gap between baseline dropouts and school attendees by 41 percent. These results suggest that well-designed financial incentives can be an effective mechanism for improving the school persistence of at-risk students at scale.

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Bibliographic Info

Paper provided by The Field Experiments Website in its series Framed Field Experiments with number 00199.

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Date of creation: 2009
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Handle: RePEc:feb:framed:00199

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Web page: http://www.fieldexperiments.com

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  1. Alan B. Krueger, 1999. "Experimental Estimates Of Education Production Functions," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, MIT Press, vol. 114(2), pages 497-532, May.
  2. Roland Bénabou & Jean Tirole, 2003. "Intrinsic and Extrinsic Motivation," Review of Economic Studies, Oxford University Press, vol. 70(3), pages 489-520.
  3. Skoufias, Emmanuel & McClafferty, Bonnie, 2001. "Is PROGRESA working?," FCND briefs 118, International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI).
  4. Kremer, Michael R. & Miguel, Edward & Thornton, Rebecca, 2009. "Incentives to Learn," Scholarly Articles 3716457, Harvard University Department of Economics.
  5. Camerer, Colin F. & Hogarth, Robin M., 1999. "The Effects of Financial Incentives in Experiments: A Review and Capital-Labor-Production Framework," Working Papers 1059, California Institute of Technology, Division of the Humanities and Social Sciences.
  6. Roland G. Fryer, Jr, 2010. "Financial Incentives and Student Achievement: Evidence from Randomized Trials," NBER Working Papers 15898, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  7. David Card, 2000. "Estimating the Return to Schooling: Progress on Some Persistent Econometric Problems," NBER Working Papers 7769, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  8. Sudhanshu Handa & Benjamin Davis, 2006. "The Experience of Conditional Cash Transfers in Latin America and the Caribbean," Development Policy Review, Overseas Development Institute, vol. 24(5), pages 513-536, 09.
  9. Angrist, Joshua & Lang, Daniel W. & Oreopoulos, Philip, 2007. "Incentives and Services for College Achievement: Evidence from a Randomized Trial," IZA Discussion Papers 3134, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).
  10. Kahneman, Daniel & Tversky, Amos, 1979. "Prospect Theory: An Analysis of Decision under Risk," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 47(2), pages 263-91, March.
  11. Thomas S. Dee, 2001. "Teachers, Race and Student Achievement in a Randomized Experiment," NBER Working Papers 8432, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  12. Michael Wiseman, 1996. "State strategies for welfare reform: The Wisconsin story," Journal of Policy Analysis and Management, John Wiley & Sons, Ltd., vol. 15(4), pages 515-546.
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Cited by:
  1. Aslund, Olof & Engdahl, Mattias, 2012. "The Value of Earning for Learning: Performance Bonuses in Immigrant Language Training," IZA Discussion Papers 7118, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).
  2. Gisselquist, Rachel & Niño-Zarazúa, Miguel, 2013. "What can experiments tell us about how to improve governance?," MPRA Paper 49300, University Library of Munich, Germany.
  3. Robert Metcalfe & Simon Burgess and Steven Proud, 2011. "Student effort and educational attainment: Using the England football team to identify the education production function," Economics Series Working Papers 586, University of Oxford, Department of Economics.
  4. Joshua Angrist & Philip Oreopoulos & Tyler Williams, 2010. "When Opportunity Knocks, Who Answers? New Evidence on College Achievement Awards," NBER Working Papers 16643, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  5. Roland G. Fryer, Jr, 2010. "Racial Inequality in the 21st Century: The Declining Significance of Discrimination," NBER Working Papers 16256, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  6. Philip J. Cook & Jens Ludwig, 2010. "Economical Crime Control," NBER Working Papers 16513, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  7. Barua, Rashmi & Vidal-Fernández, Marian, 2012. "No Pass No Drive: Education and Allocation of Time," IZA Discussion Papers 6464, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).
  8. Márton Medgyesi & Temesváry, Z., 2013. "GINI DP 84: Conditional cash transfers in high- income OECD countries and their effects on human capital accumulation," GINI Discussion Papers 84, AIAS, Amsterdam Institute for Advanced Labour Studies.

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