Research papers

Job Market Paper

“The value of information in centralized school choice systems’’. 2017.

Draft (pdf version)

Abstract: Centralized assignment mechanisms based on the deferred acceptance algorithm (DA) are used by many school districts around the world to assign students to schools. Theoretical analyses of the DA consider that students are allowed to list all the alternatives of the choice set in their application rankings. However, in virtually all places where these mechanisms are implemented, students are restricted to list only a small number of choices. As a consequence, applicants need to take into account their admission chances to the programs, and be strategic in their choice. This paper uses administrative data from Tunisia, where high school graduates are assigned to university programs using a sequential variant of the DA, to empirically examine the effect of enabling students to update their expectations about their admissions probabilities. The sequential implementation induces quasi-experimental variation in the information available to students about remaining vacancies, and grounds the identification of students’ preferences and expected admission probabilities. When students cannot revise their expectations, and relative to a benchmark situation in which students are given perfect information about which programs would admit them, their average indirect utility is decreased by the equivalent of a 41km-increase in the distance home-university —40% of the median distance traveled by students in the data. While easy to implement, the sequential implementation of the DA procedure reduces this expected utility loss by 67% in Tunisia. The increase in expected welfare is driven by a decrease in the share of students rejected by all their listed choices. Gains disproportionately accrue to low-ability and low-SES students, and counterfactuals suggest that a better targeting of low-priority students by the information provision would increase welfare gains.


Working Papers

“Do selective high schools improve students’ outcomes? Evidence from Tunisia’’. Joint with Meryam Zaiem. 2016. Under review.

Draft (pdf version)

AbstractAlthough documented in many papers, the impact of attending a better school on future achievement is unclear and varies greatly depending on the context. We examine the impact of being admitted to a high school with high achieving peers in Tunisia, particularly on post-secondary choices. In Tunisia, the selection mechanism of students into elite schools creates admission cutoffs that can be exploited in a sharp regression discontinuity (RD) design. However, we show that despite the validity of the RD design, average and quantile treatment effects are not immune to biases resulting from sample selection and missing outcome data. We propose and estimate bounds for the true effects. We find that admission to an elite high school increases student performance at the end of high school. In addition, it increases the selectivity level of post-secondary programs students in the higher end of the distribution get assigned to. These conclusions differ significantly from those that would be drawn from naive RD estimates.


“Educational inputs and timing: how do elite schools affect students’ outcomes?’’. Joint with Meryam Zaiem. 2016.

Abstract Documented in many papers, the impact of attending a school with high-performing peers on future achievement seem to vary greatly depending on the context. This heterogeneity calls for a better understanding of the mechanisms at play behind the effects of admission to an elite school on students’ outcomes. Using data from selective high schools in Tunisia, we investigate two types of mechanisms: the change in educational inputs induced by admission to an elite school, and the timing of the intervention. To explore the first mechanism, we show that the effects of admission to an elite high school vary across the multiple Tunisian elite institutions, and we evaluate the link between the magnitude of the treatment effects on students’ outcomes, and the intensity with which treatment modifies various dimensions of the school environment, such as school infrastructure and teacher and peer characteristics. Results suggest that, although average teachers’ quality and student monitoring are increased by admission to an elite high school, the higher peer achievement seems to be the main mediator of treatment effects on students’ outcomes. To assess the role of the timing of the intervention on the effectiveness of selective schools, we exploit a unique and recent feature of the Tunisian school system. Elite middle schools were created in 2007 by the Ministry of Education in Tunisia, using a similar prototype and selection process as for elite high schools. Data on the first cohort to enroll in these elite middle schools, graduating high school and applying to college in 2014, allow us to compare the effects on students’ outcomes of admission to an elite middle school, to an elite high school, or possibly to both, one after the other. Results suggest that, in the Tunisian setting, the intervention had larger effects on students’ outcome when performed at the high school level.