Working Papers

School Admissions, Mismatch, and Graduation, with Maria Elena Ortega-Hesles, 2023

This paper studies the effects of changing the priority ordering for admission to high schools in the centralized education system in Mexico City. Elite schools are heavily oversubscribed, and seat rationing follows a priority ordering that relies solely on a standardized admission exam. The system ignores other available 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 graduation on time for students with low middle school GPAs and does not affect it for students with high middle school GPAs. Guided by this evidence, we study the effects of a counterfactual admission policy wherein the priority ordering 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. In addition, it increases elite schools' graduation on time by seven percentage points and the system-wide graduation on time by two percentage points.

Perceived Ability and School Choices: Experimental Evidence and Scale-up Effects, with Matteo Bobba and Veronica Frisancho, 2023

This paper studies an information intervention designed and implemented in the context of a school assignment mechanism in Mexico City. We find that providing students from socio-economically disadvantaged backgrounds with feedback about their academic performance contributes to placing applicants in schools that better fit their skills, allowing them to graduate on time from high school at a higher rate. We also quantify the effect of a counterfactual and yet feasible implementation of the information intervention at a much larger scale. Simulation results demonstrate substantial heterogeneity in the demand-side responses, which trigger sorting and displacement patterns within the assignment mechanism. The equilibrium effects of the intervention may possibly hinder the subsequent academic trajectories of high-achieving and socio-economically disadvantaged students.

Time Varying Effects of Elite Schools:  Evidence from Mexico City, with Salvador Navarro, 2023

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.