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The Effects of Class Size and Composition on Student Achievement: New Evidence from Natural Population Variation

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  • Caroline M. Hoxby

Abstract

I use natural population variation to identify the effects of class size and composition on student achievement. I isolate the credibly random component of population variation in each grade and school district and use this component to generate instrumental variables for class size and composition. I also exploit the discontinuous changes in class size that occur when natural population variation triggers a change in the number of classes in a grade in a school. Discontinuity-based results are both consistent and precise only when applied to within-district changes in class size and population. I find that reductions in class size from a base of 15 to 30 students have no effect on student achievement. The estimates are precise enough to identify improvements in math, reading, or writing achievement of just 3/100ths of a standard deviation. I find that the presence of black students in a class, in an of itself, has no effect on achievement. I demonstrate that estimates of the effect of racial composition that rely on between-district comparisons suffer from substantial bias. Finally, I show that more female classes perform significantly better in writing in the 4th through 8th grades and in math in the 4th grade. Comparison of the effects to average male-female differences in test scores suggest that gender composition alters classroom conduct.

Suggested Citation

  • Caroline M. Hoxby, 1998. "The Effects of Class Size and Composition on Student Achievement: New Evidence from Natural Population Variation," NBER Working Papers 6869, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  • Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:6869
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    Cited by:

    1. Giacomo De Giorgi & Michele Pellizzari & William Gui Woolston, 2012. "Class Size And Class Heterogeneity," Journal of the European Economic Association, European Economic Association, vol. 10(4), pages 795-830, August.
    2. Mingliang Li, 2007. "Bayesian Proportional Hazard Analysis of the Timing of High School Dropout Decisions," Econometric Reviews, Taylor & Francis Journals, vol. 26(5), pages 529-556.
    3. Arulampalam, Wiji & Naylor, Robin A. & Smith, Jeremy, 2012. "Am I missing something? The effects of absence from class on student performance," Economics of Education Review, Elsevier, vol. 31(4), pages 363-375.
    4. Justin L. Tobias & Mingliang Li, 2003. "A finite-sample hierarchical analysis of wage variation across public high schools: evidence from the NLSY and high school and beyond," Journal of Applied Econometrics, John Wiley & Sons, Ltd., vol. 18(3), pages 315-336.
    5. Steve Bradley & Jim Taylor, 2010. "Diversity, Choice and the Quasi-market: An Empirical Analysis of Secondary Education Policy in England," Oxford Bulletin of Economics and Statistics, Department of Economics, University of Oxford, vol. 72(1), pages 1-26, February.
    6. Temple, Judy A., 1998. "Recent Clinton Urban Education Initiatives and the Role of School Quality in Metropolitan Finance," National Tax Journal, National Tax Association;National Tax Journal, vol. 51(3), pages 517-529, September.
    7. Jonathan Guryan, 2004. "Desegregation and Black Dropout Rates," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 94(4), pages 919-943, September.
    8. Temple, Judy A., 1998. "Recent Clinton Urban Education Initiatives and the Role of School Quality in Metropolitan Finance," National Tax Journal, National Tax Association, vol. 51(n. 3), pages 517-29, September.
    9. Kelly Bedard & William O. Brown, Jr., "undated". "The Allocation of Public School Expenditures," Claremont Colleges Working Papers 2000-16, Claremont Colleges.
    10. Rosalind Levacic & Stephen Machin & David Reynolds & Anna Vignoles & James Walker, 2000. "The Relationship between Resource Allocation and Pupil Attainment: A Review," CEE Discussion Papers 0002, Centre for the Economics of Education, LSE.
    11. Jonathan Gruber & Phillip Levine & Douglas Staiger, 1999. "Abortion Legalization and Child Living Circumstances: Who is the "Marginal Child"?," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 114(1), pages 263-291.
    12. Hakkinen, Iida & Kirjavainen, Tanja & Uusitalo, Roope, 2003. "School resources and student achievement revisited: new evidence from panel data," Economics of Education Review, Elsevier, vol. 22(3), pages 329-335, June.
    13. Jakubowski, Maciej & Sakowski, Pawel, 2006. "Quasi-Experimental Estimates of Class Size Effect in Primary Schools in Poland," MPRA Paper 4958, University Library of Munich, Germany.
    14. Kirjavainen, Tanja, 2007. "Efficiency of Finnish Upper Secondary Schools: An Application of Stochastic Frontier Analysis with Panel Data," Discussion Papers 428, VATT Institute for Economic Research.
    15. Eric A. Hanushek, "undated". "The Evidence on Class Size," Wallis Working Papers WP10, University of Rochester - Wallis Institute of Political Economy.
    16. A. Abigail Payne & Aloysius Siow, 1998. "Estimating the Effects of Federal Research Funding on Universities using Alumni Representation on Congressional Appropriations Committees," Working Papers siow-99-02, University of Toronto, Department of Economics.
    17. Steven G. Rivkin & Eric A. Hanushek & John F. Kain, 2005. "Teachers, Schools, and Academic Achievement," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 73(2), pages 417-458, March.
    18. Joshua D. Angrist & Victor Lavy, 1997. "Using Maimonides' Rule to Estimate the Effect of Class Size on Student Achievement," NBER Working Papers 5888, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    19. Ivan Rodríguez Murillo, 2014. "Eficiencia de la educación superior en Colombia: un análisis mediante fronteras," REVISTA CIFE, UNIVERSIDAD SANTO TOMÁS, September.

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