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Essays on Education Policy and Student Achievement in Colombia Open Access

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Abstract of the Dissertation:Essays on Education Policy and Student Achievement in ColombiaThe main objective of this dissertation is to analyze the impact that two notable school reforms have had on student achievement in Colombia. The dissertation consists of three essays. The first essay lays out the conceptual framework for the dissertation. It describes the education production function that underlies most analyses in the economics of education, and reviews the main evidence on the impact of school resource policies on student outcomes. The second essay analyzes the impact of longer school days on student achievement in Colombia, where primary and secondary students attend schools that have either a complete (7-hour) or a half-day (4-hour) schedule. Using test score data from 5th and 9th graders in 2002, 2005, and 2009, along with school administrative data, this study identifies the effect of longer school days by implementing a school fixed effects model. The main model compares variation in average test scores across cohorts for schools that switched from a complete schedule to a half schedule and vice versa. I find that among schools that switch schedules between 2002 and 2009, the cohorts exposed to complete schedules have test scores that are about one tenth of a standard deviation higher than cohorts that attended half schedules. The impact of a complete schedule is larger for math test scores than for language test scores, and it is larger for 9th grade test scores than for 5th grade test scores. Effects are largest among the poorest schools in the sample, and those in rural areas. The results suggest that lengthening the school day may be an effective policy for increasing student achievement, particularly for the lowest-income students in Colombia and other developing countries.The third essay analyzes the impact of the "Escuela Nueva" (EN) model (New School) on student achievement, using test score data from SABER 2002 and 2005, a national standardized test administered to 5th and 9th graders in Colombia. EN is an educational model originally designed to improve the effectiveness of rural schools. It is characterized by multigrade classrooms (i.e., one instructor teaches students in various grades in the same classroom), a child-centered curriculum, flexible systems of grading and promotion, intensive teacher training, and parental involvement. To mitigate the concerns about systematic selection of schools into EN that might bias the estimations of the EN impact, this study implements a school fixed effects model that controls for time-invariant characteristics within the school. Results show that among schools that switched models between 2002 and 2005, the cohorts of 5th grade students exposed to EN have on average 0.135 of a standard deviation higher language test scores than cohorts exposed to other models, while there is no statistically significant impact on switching to EN for 9th graders. The impact of EN is largest among rural schools and the poorest schools in the sample.

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