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The Elite Illusion:  Achievement Effects at Boston and New York Exam Schools

The Elite Illusion: Achievement Effects at Boston and New York Exam Schools

School Reform, January 2014

A study conducted by researchers Atila Abdulkadiroglu, Joshua Angrist, and Parag Pathak reveals that attendance at Boston and New York’s highly selective exam schools have little impact on student achievement.

Parents gauge school qual­i­ty in part by the lev­el of stu­dent achieve­ment and a school’s racial and socioe­co­nom­ic mix. The impor­tance of school char­ac­ter­is­tics in the hous­ing mar­ket can be seen in the jump in house prices at school dis­trict bound­aries where peer char­ac­ter­is­tics change. The ques­tion of whether schools with more attrac­tive peers are real­ly bet­ter in a val­ue-added sense remains open, how­ev­er. This paper uses a fuzzy regres­sion-dis­con­ti­nu­ity design to eval­u­ate the causal effects of peer char­ac­ter­is­tics. Our design exploits admis­sions cut­offs at Boston and New York City’s heav­i­ly over-sub­scribed exam schools. Successful appli­cants near admis­sions cut­offs for the least selec­tive of these schools move from schools with scores near the bot­tom of the state SAT score dis­tri­b­u­tion to schools with scores near the medi­an. Successful appli­cants near admis­sions cut­offs for the most selec­tive of these schools move from above-aver­age schools to schools with stu­dents whose scores fall in the extreme upper tail. Exam school stu­dents can also expect to study with few­er non­white class­mates than unsuc­cess­ful appli­cants. Our esti­mates sug­gest that the marked changes in peer char­ac­ter­is­tics at exam school admis­sions cut­offs have lit­tle causal effect on test scores or col­lege qual­i­ty.