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Understanding the Role of Time-Varying Unobserved Ability Heterogeneity in Education Production

  • Weili Ding
  • Steven F. Lehrer

Unobserved ability heterogeneity has long been postulated to play a key role in human capital development. Traditional strategies to estimate education production functions do not allow for varying role or development of unobserved ability as a child ages. Such restrictions are highly inconsistent with a growing body of scientific evidence; moreover, in order to obtain unbiased parameter estimates of observed educational inputs, researchers must properly account for unobserved skills that may be correlated with other inputs to the production process. To illustrate our empirical strategy we use experimental data from Tennessee's Student/Teacher Achievement Ratio experiment, known as Project STAR. We find that unobserved ability is endogenously developed over time and its impact on cognitive achievement varies significantly between grades in all subject areas. Moreover, we present evidence that accounting for time-varying unobserved ability across individuals and a more general depreciating pattern of observed inputs are both important when estimating education production functions.

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Paper provided by National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc in its series NBER Working Papers with number 19937.

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Date of creation: Feb 2014
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Publication status: published as Ding, Weili & Lehrer, Steven F., 2014. "Understanding the role of time-varying unobserved ability heterogeneity in education production," Economics of Education Review, Elsevier, vol. 40(C), pages 55-75.
Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:19937
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