The Returns to Schooling on Academic Performance: Evidence from Large Samples Around School Entry Cut-off Dates

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by Marc Frenette

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In the study I estimate the effect of an additional year of schooling (Grade 10) on academic performance, with the particular aim of understanding the role of schooling in shaping the gender and income divides in academic performance. To identify the returns to schooling, the study takes advantage of a setting whereby standardized tests were administered to large samples of students of very close age, but who were in different school grades as a result of school-entry laws, thus creating a sharp discontinuity in school grades. The findings suggest that one additional year of high school (Grade 10) is associated with a large improvement in overall reading and mathematics performance, and that it had a smaller improvement in science performance. However, the improvements are not equally distributed: mathematics scores improve more for boys than for girls, and reading and science scores improve more for lower than for higher income youth. Most importantly, I find no evidence that girls or higher income youth benefit more from an additional year of high school in any test area. These findings suggest that the key to understanding the weaker academic performance of boys and lower income youth may lie in earlier school years, the home or at birth.

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