Four Decades of Change in U.S. Public Education: Essays on Teacher Quality and School Finance

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Several decades of research in the economics of education have shown that both the quality and quantity of school resources are important for student outcomes. In this dissertation, I present two essays that address changes in both the quality and quantity of resources available to public schools over the past four decades (1960 2000).

First, in chapter two I examine how the propensity for high test-scoring females to enter the teaching profession has changed over a forty-year period of occupational desegregation. While it has long been presumed that improved labor market opportunities for women have adversely affected the quality of teachers (over three quarters of whom are female), there is surprisingly little evidence measuring the extent to which this is true. In this essay, I combine data from five longitudinal surveys of high school graduates spanning the years 1957 to 2000 to evaluate this claim. I find that while the test score ranking of the average new female teacher has fallen only slightly over this period, the likelihood that a female in the top decile of her high school class entered teaching has plummeted.

Next, in chapter three I examine the impact of rising within school district population heterogeneity and income inequality on local per-pupil expenditure and public school participation rates. Like the nation at large, the populations of school districts in the United States have become significantly more diverse, in (among other dimensions) racial and ethnic background, schooling, and income. Using a merged panel of school district demographics and financial data for 8,700 unified school districts over the 1970 to 2000 period, I look at the effects of this rising heterogeneity on the support for local public schools. I find that rising within-district income inequality is associated with greater per-pupil expenditure, a result consistent with a median voter model in which a lower tax price to the median voter results in greater per-pupil spending. Greater fractionalization in race and educational attainment appears to reduce per-pupil expenditure and increase enrollment in private schools.