Job Market Paper

Unequal Assignments to Public Schools and the Limits of Schools Choice   [results under disclosure review-coming soon]

School Choice mechanisms aim to reduce the gap in access to quality education across racial and socioeconomic groups, among other objectives. I document that under Boston Public Schools' choice system, white pre-kindergartners are assigned to schools with higher achievement than their black and hispanic counterparts. Moreover, average achievement at the schools assigned to each group is the same as that generated under a neighborhood assignment system. In this paper, I study why giving parents the option to sort into high-achieving schools does not result in more black and hispanic students assigned to these schools. Using a model of random utility I estimate racial-specific preferences for schools and run counterfactual assignments to quantify the relative contribution of (i) location-independent preferences for schools, (ii) travel costs, and (iii) assignment rules. I find that more than 60% of the gap in achievement at the schools assigned to black and hispanic students relative to white students is explained by travel costs to high-performing schools. Differences in the location-independent value of schools explain about 30% of the gap, while algorithm rules have no significant effect. Importantly, if black and hispanic parents faced travel costs like those of white parents, the improvement in achievement would be coupled by an improved school-match equivalent to an increase in ex-post utility of 0.4 miles less traveled. This exercise highlights some limits of school choice policies in the presence of residential sorting.

Work in Progress

Civilian Collaboration and Violence in Civil Wars

with Austin Wright

We propose a mechanism that rationalizes changes in violence in civil wars after economic shocks and test it with newly collected data. The rationale we propose, different from previous mechanisms studied, relies on a theory of violence where political groups choose the type of violence -selective or indiscriminate- that maximize their expected control, and where information provided by civilian informants will determine the relative effectiveness of these types of violence. Civilians, on the other hand, are producers of an agricultural good, they choose the political group they will supply information to, if any, having considerations on expected revenue and chances of survival. We argue that increases in the price of commodities whose production relies on collaboration reduce the incentives of civilians to inform against fellow community members. This is the case since denouncing a fellow civilian will lower the gains from collaboration. Since informants feed armed groups with the necessary inputs to effectively carry out selective attacks, a reduction in the information available to political groups will cause a reduction in selective violence. We use text analysis algorithms to classify violent attacks and test the mechanism.