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Causes and Consequences of Special Education Placement: Evidence from Chicago Public Schools

Thursday, February 1, 2007 - 12:00pm to 1:30pm

Center for Global Development presents a brown bag seminar on
Causes and Consequences of Special Education Placement: Evidence from Chicago Public Schools

Jessica Cohen
Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Jessica is a Ph.D. candidate at Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Thursday, February 1, 2007
12:00 p.m. – 1:30 p.m.

Center for Global Development
1800 Massachusetts Avenue, NW, Third Floor, Washington, D.C.

Abstract: Despite the fact that nearly 14 percent of U.S. public school students receive Special Education (SE) services, little is known about the direct impact of SE placement on students’social and academic outcomes. This paper exploits the strategic incentive to increase SE enrollment induced by a 1996 accountability policy in Chicago Public Schools to identify the impact of SE placement on high school completion, absenteeism and GPA. Preaccountability performance characteristics of the school determined to what extent sanctions could be avoided by increasing SE placement, since SE students’ scores were excluded from accountability measures. I construct an instrument that captures the strength of strategic incentives, and show that low-achieving students in high-incentive schools experienced the largest increase in SE placement. Using instrumental variables analysis and a panel of student data from Chicago Public Schools, I find that SE placement in elementary school reduces the probability of dropping out of high school and absenteeism for the marginal low-achieving student, while results on GPA are inconclusive. I provide evidence that these results are not driven by other changes taking place at high-incentive schools. The results suggest that low-achieving students benefit from SE placement for mild mental disabilities.

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