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The Effect of Community Traumatic Events on Student Achievement: Evidence from the Beltway Sniper Attacks

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  • Seth Gershenson

    (School of Public Affairs American University Washington, DC 20016 Author email: gershens@american.edu)

  • Erdal Tekin

    (School of Public Affairs American University Washington, DC 20016 Author email: tekin@american.edu)

Abstract

Community traumatic events such as mass shootings, terrorist attacks, and natural disasters have the potential to disrupt student learning. For example, these events can reduce instructional time by causing teacher and student absences, school closures, and disturbances to classroom and home routines. This paper uses a quasi-experimental research design to identify the effects of the 2002 “Beltway Sniper” attacks on student achievement in Virginia's public elementary schools. To identify the causal impact of these events, the empirical analysis uses a difference-in-differences strategy that exploits geographic variation in schools’ proximity to the attacks. The main results indicate that the attacks significantly reduced school-level proficiency rates in schools within five miles of an attack. Evidence of a causal effect is most robust for math proficiency rates in the third and fifth grades, and third-grade reading proficiency, suggesting that the shootings caused a decline in school proficiency rates of about 2 to 5 percent. Particularly concerning from an equity standpoint, these effects appear to be entirely driven by achievement declines in schools that serve higher proportions of racial minority and socioeconomically disadvantaged students. Finally, results from supplementary analyses suggest these deleterious effects faded out in subsequent years.

Suggested Citation

  • Seth Gershenson & Erdal Tekin, 2018. "The Effect of Community Traumatic Events on Student Achievement: Evidence from the Beltway Sniper Attacks," Education Finance and Policy, MIT Press, vol. 13(4), pages 513-544, Fall.
  • Handle: RePEc:tpr:edfpol:v:13:y:2018:i:4:p:513-544
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    More about this item

    JEL classification:

    • I12 - Health, Education, and Welfare - - Health - - - Health Behavior
    • I21 - Health, Education, and Welfare - - Education - - - Analysis of Education
    • I24 - Health, Education, and Welfare - - Education - - - Education and Inequality
    • K42 - Law and Economics - - Legal Procedure, the Legal System, and Illegal Behavior - - - Illegal Behavior and the Enforcement of Law

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