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The three papers of this dissertation examine the contribution of family, school, and neighborhood factors to the racial achievement gap in education. The first paper shows that the fraction of college-educated adults and the median household income in the neighborhood are positively associated with students’ achievement, but neighborhood factors can account, on average, for about 5 percent of student achievement. The second paper analyzes the effect of enrolling students in Algebra 1 in 8th grade instead of 9th grade. The findings suggest that the “Algebra 1 for everyone” policy encouraged since the early 1990s is not equally effective for all students. Students whose test scores were low prior to 8th grade did not improve at the same rate or did not improve at all. The third paper explores factors underlying the achievement gap between white and Hispanic students. The author finds that (1) within-school factors exceed between-school factors; (2) parental education is the most important individual variable: white students have on average better educated parents, which translates to higher test scores; and (3) the achievement gap narrows between grades 3 and 10, with the improvement mainly associated with a reduction in within-school disparities.

Table of Contents

  • Chapter One

    Introduction or Why Racial Gap Matters

  • Chapter Two

    Neighborhood Effects on Students' Achievement

  • Chapter Three

    Isolating the impact of Algebra 1 in 8th grade on the test scores in North Carolina

  • Chapter Four

    Decomposing the Racial Achievement Gap

  • Chapter Five


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This document was submitted as a dissertation in February 2010 in partial fulfillment of the requirements of the doctoral degree in public policy analysis at the Pardee RAND Graduate School. The faculty committee that supervised and approved the dissertation consisted of Roland Sturm (Chair), Brian Stecher, and Paco Martorell.

This report is part of the RAND Corporation Dissertation series. Pardee RAND dissertations are produced by graduate fellows of the Pardee RAND Graduate School, the world's leading producer of Ph.D.'s in policy analysis. The dissertations are supervised, reviewed, and approved by a Pardee RAND faculty committee overseeing each dissertation.

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