UC Berkeley economist Jesse Rothstein awarded research grant

By Rasheed Shabazz

UC Berkeley economist Jesse Rothstein will receive a research grant from the Washington Center for Equitable Growth to study student school finance reform and educational equity.

Nine distinguished scholars will receive grants to study the possible effects of human capital, consumer demand and the role of government institutions on economic growth and productivity.

Academic economists need to investigate whether structural changes in the U.S. economy affect economic growth, especially changes related to wealth distribution and opportunity, according to Heather Boushey, executive director and chief economist at Equitable Growth

“Encouraging new academic thinking will offer important contributions to understanding what is good and bad for our economy,” Boushey said. This research will enable more–data-driven–research in the future, she added.

Rothstein, associate professor of economics and a member of the Haas Institute’s Economic Disparities faculty cluster, is one of three grantees focusing on the role of human capital, the talent necessary to boost the U.S.’s economic productivity. Along with other grantees, the research explores whether and how inequality affects human capital.

“We know that inequality starts at young, at very young ages,” Rothstein said. “Children from more advantaged backgrounds already have higher achievement than those from less advantaged backgrounds.” Over time, this inequality grows. “It is impossible to achieve equality of opportunity if you don’t start trying until after children finish high school.”

Rothstein’s educational research regularly explores the relationship between students’ family backgrounds and how they progress through the educational system. His previous publications have included the relationship between income and test scores among racialized groups, the income and educational legacies of racial segregation and discrimination, as well as the SAT, affirmative action and college admissions. This project focuses on one policy intervention–school financing reform–to study its impact.

“If money matters, then more inequality in financing between high- and low-income students’ schools would mean worse relative outcomes for low-income students,” Rothstein explained.

Many important reforms have taken place in recent years that sought to give more adequate and equitable funding to low-income school districts, as a way to improve the educational outcomes of students lacking opportunity. Reforms equalizing funding levels should equalize student achievement across districts.

“The most serious effort we’ve made to promote greater equality of opportunity between children from high and low-income families is through reforms to school finance,” Rothstein said. “So it is important to know whether these reforms have in fact helped to improve poor children’s educational outcomes, or whether, as some critics argue, the extra funds are wasted with no positive effects,” he said.

Rothstein will examine data of state-level school finance reforms intended to increase funding for schools serving poor children over the past several decades to study the effects of these reforms on test scores of students in low-income districts.

This research will be completed 2016 and will inform policymakers as to whether reforms boost overall scores as well as reduce the inequality in educational outcomes.

UPDATED: Original article said research would be published in 2015. Grant is for two-years, and a publication is uncertain. (8/25/2014)

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