Working papers

School Choice, Mismatch, and Graduation (JMP) with Maria Elena Ortega-Hesles, 2022

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 use 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, 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.