Does School Quality Matter? Returns to Education and the Characteristics of Public Schools in the United States


This paper estimates the effects of school quality -- measured by the
pupil-teacher ratio, the average term length, and the relative pay of
teachers -- on the rate of return to education for men born between 1920 and
1949. Using earnings data from the 1980 Census, we find that men who were
educated in states with higher quality schools have a higher return to
additional years of schooling, holding constant their current state of
residence, their state of birth, the average return to education in the
region where they currently reside, and other factors. A decrease in the
pupil-teacher ratio from 30 to 25, for example, is associated with a 0.4
percentage point increase in the rate of return to education. The estimated
relationship between the return to education and measures of school quality
is similar for blacks and whites. Since improvements in school quality for
black students were mainly driven by political and judicial pressures, we
argue that the evidence for blacks reinforces a causal interpretation of the
link between school quality and earnings. We also find that returns to
schooling are higher for students educated in states with a higher fraction
of female teachers, and in states with higher average teacher education.
Holding constant school quality measures, however, we find no evidence that
parental income or education affects state-level rates of return.

Year of Publication
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Journal of Political Economy, Vol. 100, No. 1, 1992
Working Papers