Selected Publications

Computers and Productivity: Evidence from Laptop Use in the College Classroom.With Robert Patterson.  Economics of Education Review. 2017.

This paper evaluates the effect of classroom computer use on academic performance. Using a quasi-experimental design and administrative data, we find that computer use in college classrooms has a negative impact on course grades. Our study exploits institutional policies that generate plausibly random variation in computer use within the classroom. Specifically, we find that having at least one laptop-required course on the same day as a laptop-optional course increases the likelihood that a student uses a laptop in the laptop-optional course. Similarly, having at least one laptop-prohibited course on the same day as laptop-optional course decreases the likelihood that a student uses a laptop in the laptop-optional course. Compared to students who are not affected by computer policies in their other courses, students who are induced to use computers in class perform significantly worse and students who are influenced not to use computers perform significantly better. We find that the negative effects of computer use are concentrated among males and low-performing students and more prominent in quantitative courses.

The Competitive Effects of Online Education.
With David Deming and Michael Lovenheim. Forthcoming in Productivity in Higher Education (Caroline Hoxby and Kevin Stange, Eds.). Also published as NBER Working Paper No. 22749.

We study the impact of online degree programs on the market for U.S. higher education. Online degree programs increase the competitiveness of local education markets by providing additional options in areas that previously only had a small number of brick-and-mortar schools. We show that local postsecondary institutions in less competitive markets experienced relative enrollment declines following a regulatory change in 2006 that increased the market entry and enrollment of online institutions. Impacts on enrollment were concentrated among private non-selective institutions, which are likely to be the closest competitors to online degree programs. We also find increases in per-student instructional spending among public institutions. Our results suggest that by increasing competitive pressure on local schools, online education can be an important driver of innovation and productivity in U.S. higher education.

Could Trends in Time Children Spend with Parents Help Explain the Black-White Gap in Human Capital? Evidence from The American Time Use Survey.” Education Economics. 2017.

It is widely believed that the time children spend with parents significantly impacts human capital formation. If time varies significantly between black and white children, this may help explain the large racial gap in test scores and wages. In this study, I use data from the American Time Use Survey (ATUS) to examine the patterns in the time black and white children receive from mothers at each age between birth and age 14. I relate patterns in parenting time to trends in human capital formation observed in the literature. I observe that black children spend significantly less time with their mothers than white children in the first years of life. However, differences in parenting time rapidly decline with age and there are never significant differences in teaching time after socioeconomic variables are controlled. My findings suggest the black-white human capital gap is unlikely to be driven by differences in teaching time or differences in parenting time after children enter school.

Charter School Unionization and Student Outcomes.With Jordan Matsudaira. Economics of Education Review. Forthcoming.

We examine the impact of unions on the quality of educational production by studying a wave of unionization among California charter schools and administrative data on student achievement. We first present new data showing that unions are much more prevalent among charter schools than suggested by previous studies.Using a difference-in-differences identification strategy, we find that unionization increases achievement in Mathematics and has no statistically significant impact on English test scores.

Working Papers

We use administrative data to study the role of attribution bias in a high-stakes, consequential decision: the choice of a college major. Specifically, we examine the influence of fatigue experienced during exposure to a general education course on whether students choose the major corresponding to that course. To do so, we exploit the conditional random assignment of student course schedules at the United States Military Academy. We find that students who are assigned to an early morning (7:30 AM) section of a general education course are roughly 10% less likely to major in that subject, relative to students assigned to a later time slot for the course. We find similar effects for fatigue generated by having one or more back-to-back courses immediately prior to a general education course that starts later in the day. Finally, we demonstrate that the pattern of results is consistent with attribution bias and difficult to reconcile with competing explanations. 

Can Behavioral Tools Improve Online Student Outcomes? Experimental Evidence from a Massive Open Online Course.”
Revise and Resubmit at the Journal of Economic Behavior and Organization.

Online students often experience poor academic outcomes. To address poor outcomes for online students, I leverage insights from behavioral economics to design three software tools including (1) a commitment device, (2) a reminder tool, and (3) a focusing tool. I test the impact of these tools in a massive open online course (MOOC). Relative to students in the control group, students in the commitment device treatment spend 24% more time working on the course, receive course grades that are 0.29 standard deviations higher, and are 40% more likely to complete the course. In contrast, outcomes for students in the reminder and focusing treatments are statistically indistinguishable from the control.

Ongoing Projects

Addressing Planning Failures: Experimental Evidence from an Online University.” With Phil Oreopoulos, Uros Petronijevic, and  Nolan Pope. 

The Effects of Behavioral Interventions on Consumer Protection Utilization.” With Benjamin Castleman and William Skimmyhorn.

“Parental Absence and Human Capital Development: Evidence from Quasi-Random Deployments.” With Andrew Johnston and David Lyle.