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Essays in the economics of education : evidence from choice programs in Canada Shack, Daniel


This dissertation uses elementary school-choice programs in Canada in order to examine issues relating to the economics of education. Chapter 2 examines the role of parents’ uncertainty and learning in a setting where parents make dynamic education choices for their children and learn over time about unknown, child-specific returns to schooling. Using administrative data from the province of British Columbia and the French Immersion program, I estimate a dynamic model that incorporates imperfect information and parental learning into a school-choice framework. I find that new information parents receive after the initial enrolment decision accounts for a large fraction of program attrition, particularly in earlier grades, and also raises student achievement. In chapter 3, using the same data as in chapter 2, I estimate the causal impact that the French Immersion program has on short and medium-run student outcomes using a control function and instrumental variables approach that exploits variation in the distance to the nearest immersion and non-immersion schools within a given neighbourhood. I find that initial entry into the French Immersion program has large negative and significant effects on student outcomes in grade 4 in each of math, reading and writing. Over time, these effects decline such that by grade 10, I find no effect on English scores, but there remains a negative effect on math scores. Chapter 4 examines how changes in peer composition from school-choice policies impacts students’ own achievement. Using administrative data from the Canadian provinces of Ontario and British Columbia and exploiting the Late French Immersion program, I estimate these peer effects using a two-stage residual inclusion approach along with a school-fixed effects model. I find that as more children leave for the choice program, there is a negative and significant effect on the remaining students; however, this result masks substantial heterogeneity. I find that an increase in the fraction of low performing students to enter the choice program leads to increases in achievement for the remaining students; conversely, I find that high-performing leavers cause large reductions in the achievement of the remaining students.

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