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Does making upper secondary school more comprehensive affect dropout rates, educational attainment and earnings? Evidence from a Swedish pilot scheme

Since the mid-20th century many OECD countries have discarded their previous selective schools systems, in which students early on were separated between academic and vocational tracks, in favor of more comprehensive schools. The effects of these reforms have generally been difficult to evaluate and their consequences for students’ educational and labor market outcomes remain disputed. This paper evaluates the effects of the introduction of a more comprehensive upper secondary school system in Sweden in the 1990s. The reform reduced the differences between the academic and vocational educational tracks through prolonging and substantially increasing the academic content of all vocational tracks. The effects of this policy change are identified by exploiting a six year pilot scheme, which preceded the actual reform in some municipalities. The results show that the prolongation of the vocational tracks brought about an increased probability of dropping out among low performing students. Though one important motive behind the policy change was to enable all upper secondary school graduates to pursue a university degree, I find no effects on university enrolment or graduation. There are some indications, however, that attending the longer and more academic vocational track may have led to increased earnings in the long run.

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Paper provided by IFAU - Institute for Evaluation of Labour Market and Education Policy in its series Working Paper Series with number 2009:9.

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Length: 42 pages
Date of creation: 22 Apr 2009
Date of revision:
Publication status: Published as Hall, Caroline, 'The Effects of Reducing Tracking in Upper Secondary School: Evidence from a Large-Scale Pilot Scheme' in Journal of Human Resources, 2012, pages 237-269.
Handle: RePEc:hhs:ifauwp:2009_009
Contact details of provider: Postal: IFAU, P O Box 513, SE-751 20 Uppsala, Sweden
Phone: (+46) 18 - 471 70 70
Fax: (+46) 18 - 471 70 71
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  1. Alan Manning & Jörn-Steffen Pischke, 2006. "Comprehensive Versus Selective Schooling in England and Wales: What Do We Know?," CEE Discussion Papers 0066, Centre for the Economics of Education, LSE.
  2. Lillard, Dean R. & DeCicca, Philip P., 2001. "Higher standards, more dropouts? Evidence within and across time," Economics of Education Review, Elsevier, vol. 20(5), pages 459-473, October.
  3. O. Ashenfelter & D. Card (ed.), 1999. "Handbook of Labor Economics," Handbook of Labor Economics, Elsevier, edition 1, volume 3, number 3.
  4. Ariga, Kenn & Brunello, Giorgio, 2007. "Does Secondary School Tracking Affect Performance? Evidence from IALS," IZA Discussion Papers 2643, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).
  5. Aakvik, Arild & Salvanes, Kjell G. & Vaage, Kjell, 2003. "Measuring Heterogeneity in the Returns to Education in Norway Using Educational Reforms," Working Papers in Economics 08/03, University of Bergen, Department of Economics.
  6. Daniele Checchi & Giorgio Brunello, 2006. "Does School Tracking Affect Equality of Opportunity? New International Evidence," UNIMI - Research Papers in Economics, Business, and Statistics unimi-1044, Universitá degli Studi di Milano.
  7. Eric A. Hanushek & Ludger Wößmann, 2005. "Does Education Tracking Affect Performance and Inequality? Differences-In-Differences Evidence Across Countries," Discussion Papers 04-027, Stanford Institute for Economic Policy Research.
  8. Costas Meghir & MÃ¥rten Palme, 2004. "Educational reform, ability and family background," IFS Working Papers W04/10, Institute for Fiscal Studies.
  9. Imbens, Guido W & Angrist, Joshua D, 1994. "Identification and Estimation of Local Average Treatment Effects," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 62(2), pages 467-75, March.
  10. Galindo-Rueda, Fernando & Vignoles, Anna, 2004. "The Heterogeneous Effect of Selection in Secondary Schools: Understanding the Changing Role of Ability," IZA Discussion Papers 1245, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).
  11. Esther Duflo, 2001. "Schooling and Labor Market Consequences of School Construction in Indonesia: Evidence from an Unusual Policy Experiment," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 91(4), pages 795-813, September.
  12. Nordström Skans, Oskar, 2004. "Scarring effects of the first labour market experience: A sibling based analysis," Working Paper Series 2004:14, IFAU - Institute for Evaluation of Labour Market and Education Policy.
  13. Thomas S. Dee & Brian A. Jacob, 2006. "Do High School Exit Exams Influence Educational Attainment or Labor Market Performance?," NBER Working Papers 12199, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
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