In a new study published in the July edition of the American Economic Journal: Applied Economics, Adrienne Lucas and Isaac Mbiti use a regression discontinuity design to investigate this question for the population of Kenyan students who graduated primary school in 2004. The researchers, exploiting Kenya’s secondary school admission rule, compare the educational outcomes of students who were barely admitted to elite schools (known as national schools) to those of students who barely missed admission. This strategy, the researchers say, allows them to attribute differences in students’ outcomes to the quality of their secondary schools.
Their analysis yields findings of 1) no association between admission to an elite school and improved progress through secondary school, and 2) little evidence of positive impacts of graduating from an elite school on secondary school test scores. One thing they do find is evidence of a robust causal association between graduating from an elite school and higher test scores on the Swahili subject test. This finding, the researchers explain, may be due to the diversity of the student population at the national schools and perhaps the special emphasis on Swahili for the sake of communication or as a national language. Taken together, the researchers interpret their findings as suggestive that the “quality” of Kenyan elite schools is attributable to the selection of students.
See “Effects of School Quality on Student Achievement: Discontinuity Evidence from Kenya”