Working papers

School Choice, Mismatch, and Graduation (JMP) with Maria Elena Ortega-Hesles, 2021

In all centralized education systems, some schools experience excess demand. A standard solution to the excess demand problem is to ration seats using admission priorities. This paper studies the effects of changing the priority structure in the centralized high school admission system in Mexico City. Academically elite schools experience excess demand, while admission priorities are based on a standardized admission exam. The system ignores other skill measures such as Grade Point Average (GPA), which may better capture non-cognitive skills that are important for later education and life-cycle outcomes. Using a Regression Discontinuity Design (RDD), we first show that marginal admission to an elite school decreases the graduation probability for students with below-median GPA and increases it for students with above-median GPA. Guided by this evidence, we then study the effects of a counterfactual admission policy wherein elite schools define a priority index that flexibly combines information on both the admission exam and the middle school overall GPA. Our counterfactual results show that more females and lower-income students would be admitted to elite schools, and the graduation rate at elite schools would increase by six percentage points. Overall, our findings show that including the information contained in GPA to define a priority structure improves equity of access, decreases mismatch, and increases graduation.

Perceived Ability and School Choices, with Matteo Bobba and Veronica Frisancho, 2021

This paper studies middle school students' choices between academic and non-academic high schools when they are uncertain about their academic skills. The paper has two parts. In the first part, we conduct a randomized control trial in which we provide some students with information about their academic skills and study how this affects subsequent school choices and trajectories. The information intervention induces a steeper gradient of the relationship between academic skills and the demand for academic schools. This reallocation of skills across school types improves the match between students and schools and increases on-time graduation. In the second part, using a school choice model, we examine how a scaled-up version of our experiment affects the sorting of students to schools when changes in the aggregate demand for academic schools, due to better-informed choices, move the education market to a new equilibrium.

Time Varying Effects of Elite Schools: Evidence from Mexico City, 2019

Studies examining the effects of elite school admission on test scores have found positive, null, and negative effects. One possible explanation for these seemingly inconsistent findings is that the population for which these effects are estimated varies over time. Another explanation is that school quality changes over time. In this paper, I take advantage of five years (2005-2009) of administrative data on the centralized high school admission system in Mexico City to study whether the academic effects of being marginally admitted to an elite science school depends on the year of admission. I 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. I 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.