Education & Child Development Research

Education & Child Development Initiative:

To a great extent, a person's life chances are set by the time he or she finishes school, and both the schooling system and other institutions governing child development play major roles in influencing these opportunities. Led by Professors Jesse Rothstein and Ted Miguel, the Opportunity Lab’s Education and Child Development Initiative is focused on investigating the impacts of childhood experiences on opportunity for life-long success. Our scholars lead the discussion on the impact of educational institutions on equality of opportunity. Central research topics include the effects of preschool programs for disadvantaged children, the role of elementary and secondary school funding, teacher quality, and the impact of segregation on student outcomes. Our work also extends to postsecondary education, including the measurement of colleges’ “value-added” for their graduates’ earnings, admissions policies and racial diversity, and the role of student debt in occupational choices. 

Faculty Lead:

Jesse Rothstein, Professor of Public Policy and Economics; Director, Institute for Research on Labor and Employment; Co-Director, O-Lab

Affiliated Faculty:

Hilary Hoynes, Professor of Public Policy and Economics; Haas Distinguished Chair in Economic Disparities; Co-Editor of American Economic Review; Co-Director, O-Lab  

Rucker Johnson, Associate Professor of Public Policy; Faculty Research Associate of the National Bureau of Economic Research.

Patrick Kline, Associate Professor of Economics; Faculty Research Fellow at the National Bureau of Economic Research. 

Edward Miguel, Oxfam Professor of Environmental and Resource Economics; Faculty Director, Center for Effective Global Action (CEGA).   

Chris Walters, Associate Professor of Economics; Faculty Research Fellow at the National Bureau of Economic Research. 

Danny Yagan, Assistant Professor of Economics; Faculty Research Fellow of the National Bureau of Economic Research. 


We study the impact of post-1990 school finance reforms, during the so-called “adequacy” era, on absolute and relative spending and achievement in low-income school districts. Using an event study research design that exploits the apparent randomness of reform timing, we show that reforms lead to sharp, immediate, and sustained increases in spending in low-income school districts. Using representative samples from the National Assessment of Educational Progress, we find that reforms cause increases in the achievement of students in these districts, phasing in gradually over the years following the reform. The implied effect of school resources on educational achievement is large.

This paper empirically evaluates the cost-effectiveness of Head Start, the largest earlychildhood education program in the United States. Using data from the Head Start Impact Study (HSIS), we show that Head Start draws roughly a third of its participants from competing preschool programs, many of which receive public funds. Accounting for the public savings associated with reduced enrollment in other subsidized preschools substantially increases estimates of the program’s rate of return. To parse Head Start’s test score impacts relative to home care and competing preschools, we selection correct test scores in each care environment using excluded interactions between experimental offer status and household characteristics. We find that Head Start’s effects are greater for children who would not otherwise attend preschool and for children that are less likely to participate in the program.

We examine the impact of a positive and policy-driven change in economic resources available in utero and during childhood. We focus on the introduction of the Food Stamp Program, which was rolled out across counties between 1961 and 1975. We use the Panel Study of Income Dynamics to assemble unique data linking family background and county of residence in early childhood to adult health and economic outcomes. Our findings indicate access to food stamps in childhood leads to a significant reduction in the incidence of metabolic syndrome and, for women, an increase in economic self-sufficiency.

This study estimates long-run impacts of a child health investment, exploiting community-wide experimental variation in school-based deworming. The program increased labor supply among men and education among women, with accompanying shifts in labor market specialization. Ten years after deworming treatment, men who were eligible as boys stay enrolled for more years of primary school, work 17% more hours each week, spend more time in non-agricultural self-employment, are more likely to hold manufacturing jobs, and miss one fewer meal per week. Women who were in treatment schools as girls are approximately one quarter more likely to have attended secondary school, halving the gender gap. They reallocate time from traditional agriculture into cash crops and non-agricultural self-employment. We estimate a conservative annualized financial internal rate of return to deworming of 32%, and show that mass deworming may generate more in future government revenue than it costs in subsidies.

In the early 2000s, a highly selective university introduced a “no-loans” policy under which the loan component of financial aid awards was replaced with grants. We use this natural experiment to identify the causal effect of student debt on employment outcomes. In the standard life-cycle model, young people make optimal educational investment decisions if they are able to finance these investments by borrowing against future earnings; the presence of debt has only income effects on investment decisions. We find that debt causes graduates to choose substantially higher-salary jobs and reduces the probability that students choose low-paid “public interest” jobs. We also find some evidence that debt affects students' academic decisions during college. Our estimates suggest that recent college graduates are not life-cycle agents. Two potential explanations are that young workers are credit constrained or that they are averse to holding debt. We find suggestive evidence that debt reduces students' donations to the institution in the years after they graduate and increases the likelihood that a graduate will default on a pledge made during her senior year; we argue this result is more likely consistent with credit constraints than with debt aversion.