Research Papers

Did Rosie Improve Special Education? Evidence from Massachusetts (Job Market Paper)

For students with disabilities, healthcare services provided outside school may interact with special education services provided at school to determine academic success. In this paper, I examine the effect of reforms in the Massachusetts children’s Medicaid mental health system brought about by the Rosie D. vs. Patrick class-action lawsuit on academic outcomes for students identified with an emotional disturbance (EDs). In 2006, the federal court ruled that Massachusetts had violated the rights of Medicaid-eligible EDs by failing to provide access to medically necessary healthcare. The resolution of the suit lead to the expansion of coverage for a variety of community-based mental and behavioral health services. Using administrative data on Massachusetts public school students, I estimate the impact of special education classification on EDs using within-student pre/post comparisons (student fixed effects) and investigate whether the Rosie. D. reforms improved special education via a difference-in-differences strategy. I find that the attendance rate for identified students increased by 1.4 percentage points, and the likelihood of being chronically absent decreased by 6 percentage points after Rosie D. Days suspended decreased by 26% and the likelihood of receiving any suspension decreased by and 4.4 percentage points. Effects in suspension were largest for low-income students who were most likely to benefit from increased mental and behavioral health services under Medicaid. I investigate potential mechanisms including increases in ED identification and changes to special education setting and find that EDs were educated in more inclusive settings after the reforms.

Towering Intellects? Sizing Up the Relationship Between Height and Academic Success (with Amy Ellen Schwartz)

Do tall students do better in school? While a robust literature documents higher earnings among taller people, we know little about the potential academic origins of the height earnings gradient. In this paper, we use unique student-level longitudinal data from New York City (NYC) to examine the link between height and academic outcomes, shedding light on underlying mechanisms. The centerpiece of our empirical work is a regression linking academic outcomes to height, measured as a z-score normalized to same grade/sex peers within schools. We estimate a meaningful height gradient for both boys and girls in ELA and math achievement in all grades 3-8. Controlling for observed student characteristics, a one standard deviation (sd.) increase in height for grade is associated with a 3.5% (4.6%) sd. increase in math (ELA) score for boys and 4.1% (4.8%) sd. for girls. The height gradient is not explained by contemporaneous health, while time-invariant student characteristics correlated with height and achievement explain roughly half of the relationship for boys (3/4 for girls). We also find evidence that ordinal height rank relative to peers may have a small effect on achievement conditional on cardinal height. This paper contributes to a long-standing literature on the effect of age-within-grade on achievement. Our estimates suggest that failing to account for relative height may upwardly bias the relationship between relative age and achievement by up to 25%.

Research in Progress

The Effect of Insurance Mandates on Academic Outcomes for Students with Autism: Evidence from Massachusetts

Currently, little is known about how insurance coverage for the treatment of Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) may contribute to the academic success of students identified with ASD. In 2010, Massachusetts passed legislation called ARICA (An Act Relative to Insurance Coverage for Autism), requiring that all private insurers provide coverage for the diagnosis and treatment of ASD. In 2014, the Autism Omnibus Bill followed, guaranteeing coverage for ASD treatment for children on Medicaid in the state. Using administrative student level data on the universe of public-school students in Massachusetts in academic years 2006-2018 and a triple difference estimation strategy, this paper examines the impact of these two insurance mandates on ASD incidence and the academic outcomes of students with ASD. Preliminary results suggest that private insurance coverage had no effect on ASD incidence among high-income students, but that Medicaid coverage for ASD services lead to an increase in ASD identification among low-income students. Additional preliminary results suggest that private insurance coverage lead elementary and middle school students with ASD to be educated in more inclusive environments and to be suspended less frequently.