Lucas Tilley defends his thesis Inputs and Incentives in Education


Lucas Tilley defends his thesis Inputs and Incentives in Education, 7 June at 13:15 in Lecture Hall 2 at Ekonomikum. Please note that the defence will be held digitally via Zoom and in order to keep distance and reduce the risk of spreading the virus, the number of seats in the lecture hall is limited.

Lucas Tilley

The thesis consists of three independent but related essays that address different issues in education. The first two essays use data from Sweden and investigate whether student achievement is affected by (i) the importance of grades in school admission policies, or (ii) access to school resources like qualified teachers. The third essay uses data from Chile and studies whether graduating from a more selective pedagogy program affects the type of school where aspiring teachers find their first job.

Discussant is Professor Olmo Silva, London School of Economics and the Grading committee members are Associate Professor Therese Nilsson, Department of Economics, Lund University, Professor Björn Öckert, Department of Economics and IFAU, Uppsala University and Associate Professor Ida Lidegran, Department of Education, Uppsala University.

Advisors are Accosciate Professor Helena Holmlund, IFAU and Professor Peter Fredriksson, Department of Economics, Uppsala University.


Essay I.  Educational interventions that increase the quality or quantity of school resources may have a limited impact on student achievement if students lack sufficient effort or motivation. A more effective way of raising achievement could be incentivizing students to perform well in school.  In this paper, I study whether students respond to non-financial incentives for higher grades, exploiting a reform in Stockholm that made compulsory school grades the sole criteria for admission to high school.  Using a difference-in-differences design, I find that the reform increased students’ grade point average in compulsory school by 10% of a standard deviation on average. Estimates of the unconditional quantile treatment effects show that the largest shifts occurred just above the middle of the grade distribution, where the performance incentives were strongest. I perform a variety of checks to support the hypothesis that these effects were driven by changes in student effort rather than changes in school grading practices.  My findings suggest that behavioral responses from students drive the results. Thus, strengthening the performance incentives implicit in the design of the education system can have a positive effect on student achievement.

Essay II. This paper studies a large-scale educational expansion to evaluate whether shocks to school inputs have an impact on the academic achievement of adult education students. I analyze the spillover effects of a Swedish policy that temporarily doubled enrollment in adult education, thus putting considerable strain on school resources. Because the intervention targeted individuals age 25 and over, my analysis focuses on individuals under age 25 to mitigate concerns that changes in student composition drive my findings. First, I establish that students in regions subject to larger enrollment shocks also experienced stronger negative shocks to school inputs like teacher credentials and per-pupil expenditure. Then, I show that the stronger negative shocks to school inputs coincided with steeper declines in course completion. Taken together, the two sets of results suggest a causal link between school inputs and course dropout.

Essay III. Teachers with stronger academic credentials tend to work in schools with students from more advantaged backgrounds. This paper contributes to an emerging literature on the mechanisms that drive these sorting patterns. With register data covering all college graduates and teachers in Chile between 2007 and 2020, I examine whether earning a more selective teaching degree has a causal effect on the type of schools where graduates teach at the start of their career. For identification, I exploit a college placement mechanism that generates hundreds of admission cutoffs around which access to more selective teaching programs is essentially random. Using the variation around these cutoffs in a regression discontinuity design, I find suggestive evidence that graduating from a more selective teacher program has an effect on teachers' initial job placements. In particular, it increases the probability of working in more urbanized areas and in publicly-subsidized private schools.

Download the thesis from Diva here

Read more about Lucas Tilley on his personal web