Working Papers

School Admissions, Mismatch, and Graduation, with Maria Elena Ortega-Hesles, 2022

This paper studies the effects of changing the priority ordering for admission to academically elite high schools in the centralized admission system in Mexico City. Elite schools experience excess demand, and seats are rationed following a priority ordering that relies solely on a standardized admission exam. The system ignores other skill measures, such as middle school grade point average (GPA), which may better capture non-cognitive skills important for later education and life-cycle outcomes. We first show that marginal admission to an elite high school decreases the graduation probability for students with low middle school GPAs and increases it for students with high middle school GPAs. Guided by this evidence, we then study the effects of a counterfactual admission policy wherein the priority ordering of elite schools combines the admission exam score and a measure of GPA adjusted to be comparable across middle schools. The counterfactual policy increases the number of females and low-income students admitted to elite schools and increases the graduation rate at elite schools by seven percentage points.

Perceived Ability and School Choices, with Matteo Bobba and Veronica Frisancho, 2022

This paper studies middle school students' choice between academic and non-academic schools when they are uncertain about their academic skills. We find that providing low-income students in Mexico City with more accurate information about their academic skills creates a better alignment between students' skills and the type of schools they attend. This better alignment helps increase the on-time graduation. We then estimate a school choice model to study the effects of a scaled-up version of our intervention that moves the education market to a new equilibrium because of students' better-informed choices.

Time Varying Effects of Elite Schools:  Evidence from Mexico City, with Salvador Navarro, 2022

In this paper, we study whether the academic effects of being marginally admitted to an elite science school depend on the year of admission. For this, we take advantage of five years (2005-2009) of administrative data on the centralized high school admission system in Mexico City. We find that the effect on mathematics test scores at the end of high school decreases each year, starting positive and statistically significant in 2005 and ending close to zero and not significant by 2009. We propose two mechanisms to explain this trend. The first is related to changes over time in the composition of marginally admitted and rejected students combined with heterogeneity in the effect of marginal admission. The second considers changes over time in the production functions of elite and non-elite schools. Together, these results highlight the limited external validity of estimates obtained at a single point in time as they may be systematically influenced by time-varying changes in the educational context.  

High School Track Choice and Financial Constraints:  Evidence from Urban Mexico, with Ciro Avitabile and Matteo Bobba, 2017

We study how a large household windfall affects sorting of relatively disadvantaged youth over high school tracks by exploiting the discontinuity in the assignment of a welfare program in Mexico. The in-cash transfer is found to significantly increase the probability of selecting vocational schools as the most preferred options vis-a-vis other more academically oriented education modalities. We find support for the hypothesis that the receipt of unearned income allows some students to choose a schooling career with higher out-of-pocket expenditures and higher expected returns. The observed change in stated preferences across tracks effectively alters school placement, and bears a positive effect on later education outcomes.