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Estimating the distributional effects of education reforms: A look at Project STAR


  • Jackson, Erika
  • Page, Marianne E.


Most evaluations of education policies focus on their mean impacts; when distributional effects are investigated it is usually by comparing mean impacts across demographic subgroups. We argue that such estimates may overlook important treatment effect heterogeneity; in order to appreciate the full extent of a policy's distributional impacts one should also exploit alternative methods. We demonstrate this using data from Project STAR, where we find evidence of substantial treatment effect heterogeneity across achievement quantiles. While all children appear to benefit from being placed in small classes, the largest test score gains are at the top of the achievement distribution. This result seems to be at odds with previous evidence that smaller classes benefit disadvantaged children most, but the discrepancy is reconciled by the fact that there are similar patterns of treatment effect heterogeneity within demographic groups, and that gains for disadvantaged students are larger throughout much of the achievement distribution.

Suggested Citation

  • Jackson, Erika & Page, Marianne E., 2013. "Estimating the distributional effects of education reforms: A look at Project STAR," Economics of Education Review, Elsevier, vol. 32(C), pages 92-103.
  • Handle: RePEc:eee:ecoedu:v:32:y:2013:i:c:p:92-103 DOI: 10.1016/j.econedurev.2012.07.017

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Marianne P. Bitler & Jonah B. Gelbach & Hilary W. Hoynes, 2006. "What Mean Impacts Miss: Distributional Effects of Welfare Reform Experiments," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 96(4), pages 988-1012, September.
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    5. Krueger, Alan B & Whitmore, Diane M, 2001. "The Effect of Attending a Small Class in the Early Grades on College-Test Taking and Middle School Test Results: Evidence from Project STAR," Economic Journal, Royal Economic Society, vol. 111(468), pages 1-28, January.
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    7. Caroline M. Hoxby, 2000. "The Effects of Class Size on Student Achievement: New Evidence from Population Variation," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 115(4), pages 1239-1285.
    8. Bitler, Marianne P. & Gelbach, Jonah B. & Hoynes, Hilary W., 2008. "Distributional impacts of the Self-Sufficiency Project," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 92(3-4), pages 748-765, April.
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    Cited by:

    1. Antecol, Heather & Eren, Ozkan & Ozbeklik, Serkan, 2013. "The effect of Teach for America on the distribution of student achievement in primary school: Evidence from a randomized experiment," Economics of Education Review, Elsevier, vol. 37(C), pages 113-125.
    2. Kaplan, David M., 2015. "Improved quantile inference via fixed-smoothing asymptotics and Edgeworth expansion," Journal of Econometrics, Elsevier, vol. 185(1), pages 20-32.
    3. Simone Balestra & Uschi Backes-Gellner, 2014. "Heterogeneous effects of pupil-to-teacher ratio policies - A look at class size reduction and teacher aide," Economics of Education Working Paper Series 0102, University of Zurich, Department of Business Administration (IBW), revised Apr 2017.
    4. David M. Kaplan, 2014. "Nonparametric Inference on Quantile Marginal Effects," Working Papers 1413, Department of Economics, University of Missouri.
    5. Haeck, Catherine & Lefebvre, Pierre & Merrigan, Philip, 2014. "The distributional impacts of a universal school reform on mathematical achievements: A natural experiment from Canada," Economics of Education Review, Elsevier, vol. 41(C), pages 137-160.
    6. Xavier D’Haultfoeuille & Pauline Givord, 2014. "La régression quantile en pratique," Économie et Statistique, Programme National Persée, vol. 471(1), pages 85-111.
    7. Denny, Kevin & Oppedisano, Veruska, 2013. "The surprising effect of larger class sizes: Evidence using two identification strategies," Labour Economics, Elsevier, vol. 23(C), pages 57-65.
    8. Katherine Caves & Simone Balestra, 2014. "The Impact of High School Exit Exams on Graduation Rates and Achievement," Economics of Education Working Paper Series 0123, University of Zurich, Department of Business Administration (IBW).

    More about this item


    Class size; Heterogeneity; Project STAR;

    JEL classification:

    • I21 - Health, Education, and Welfare - - Education - - - Analysis of Education
    • I24 - Health, Education, and Welfare - - Education - - - Education and Inequality


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