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Childhood lead and academic performance in Massachusetts
It is now widely accepted that childhood exposure to even low levels of lead can adversely affect neurodevelopment, behavior, and cognitive performance. Using individual-level data on childhood lead levels and test scores in Massachusetts, this paper investigates the link between lead levels in early childhood in the 1990s and student test scores in elementary school in the 2000s. Elevated levels of blood lead in early childhood are shown to adversely impact standardized test performance, even when controlling for community and school characteristics. Accordingly, public health policy that reduced childhood lead levels in the 1990s was responsible for modest but statistically significant improvements in test performance in the 2000s, with particular benefits for children in low-income communities.
AUTHORS: Reyes, Jessica W.
Richer but more unequal? nutrition and caste gaps
This paper explores children's cognitive outcomes using novel panel data from India for children 6 months through 8 years. For the first time in a developing country, this allow us to estimate a value-added model of cognitive development at a very young age. We look at the nutrition-cognition link and at the relationship between caste and test scores. We use an instrumental variable approach and find that a 1 standard deviation increase in height-for-age at the age of 5 leads to cognitive test scores that are about a 16 per cent of a SD higher at age 8. Our analysis suggests that the differences in income levels between castes found in adulthood arise early in childhood. After controlling for a wide range of controls; upper caste children show a substantial advantage in vocabulary tests, but most importantly, they show a more pronounced gender inequality than their lower caste counterparts. Compensating low caste children with the average nutritional status of their upper caste counterparts would close around one fifth of the caste cognitive differentials. We also show that UC families discriminate more against girls. Using a sub-sample of the data with the siblings' birth weight in a unique way, we find that family fixed effects explain 1SD of the overall nutrition-cognition effect.
AUTHORS: Canon, Maria E.; Florencia Lopez Boo
Classroom peer effects and student achievement
In this paper we analyze the impact of classroom peers' ability on individual student achievement with a unique longitudinal data set covering all Florida public school students in grades 3-10 over a five-year period. Unlike many data sets used to study peer effects in education, ours identifies each member of a student's classroom peer group in elementary, middle, and high school as well as the classroom teacher responsible for instruction. As a result, we can control for student fixed effects simultaneously with teacher fixed effects, thereby alleviating biases due to endogenous assignment of both peers and teachers, including some dynamic aspects of assignment. Our estimation strategy, which measures the influence on individual test scores of peers' fixed characteristics (including unobserved components), also alleviates potential bias due to measurement error in peer ability. Under linear-in-means specifications, estimated peer effects are small to nonexistent, but we find sizable and significant peer effects in nonlinear models. We find that peer effects depend on an individual student's own ability and on the relative ability level of peers, results suggesting that some degree of tracking by ability may raise aggregate achievement. Estimated peer effects tend to be smaller when teacher fixed effects are included than when they are omitted, a result that emphasizes the importance of controlling for teacher inputs. We also find that classroom peers exert a greater influence on individual achievement than the broader group of grade-level peers at the same school.
AUTHORS: Sass, Tim R.; Burke, Mary A.