Job Market Paper

Do Wildfires Harm Student Learning? 

Abstract: I evaluate the effect of wildfire smoke on primary and middle school students’ English Language Arts (ELA) and math achievement across the United States. To estimate students’ exposure to wildfires at the school district level, I merge satellite-based wildfire smoke plume boundaries and 1km-grid daily PM2.5 values with school district locations, and weight the exposure by census tract population. I find that recent drifting wildfire smoke plumes significantly lower ELA and math test scores. When I proxy the wildfire intensity by PM2.5, results suggest that severe wildfires generate lasting effects on young students in primary school. Effects are only transitory for students in middle school. Further analysis reveals that Black students in primary school and economically disadvantaged students are more negatively affected than others. Males are more affected by unhealthy air quality in elementary ELA and middle school math than female students. Overall, findings suggest that more environmental and educational policy responses are needed to protect students with the increase in wildfire occurrence and intensity.

*Presented at the Association for Education Finance and Policy (AEFP) Conference, 2022; the Southern Economic Association Conference (SEA), 2022.

Works in Progress

Does Career & Technical Education Move with the Labor Market? (Draft available upon request)

(with Celeste K. Carruthers)

Abstract: U.S. college and university students consider the broader economy and labor market when selecting a program or major, but it is unclear if labor markets affect high school students’ choice of coursework, or if high schools make industry-relevant programs more or less available in response to labor market dynamics. We study whether positive and negative labor market signals in the manufacturing industry affect high school course enrollment and course offerings in manufacturing. Focusing on public high schools in Tennessee, we find limited and inconsistent evidence that grade 11-12 students are more likely to take a manufacturing class after the announcement of new manufacturing firms or expansions in their county. They exhibit a similar degree of responsiveness to new jobs in other industries, suggesting that interest in manufacturing is tied to local economic development rather than fluctuation in aligned jobs. Limited evidence of student alignment might also be due to differences in how students and schools respond to local labor market signals. The likelihood that schools offer manufacturing is more affected by the volume of metro-area layoffs than by new jobs or county-level signals.

*Presented at the Association for Education Finance and Policy (AEFP) Conference, 2021; the Association for Public Policy Analysis & Management (APPAM) Conference, 2021.

Free College Opportunity for Low-income, High-achieving Students: Assessing Students’ Responses to the Flagship Scholarship in Tennessee (Submitted)

(with Celeste K. Carruthers

Abstract: In Fall 2007, the University of Tennessee, Knoxville (UTK) initiated the Flagship Scholarship program. Flagship offers a ”free college” opportunity to students from designated high schools if they are admitted to UTK, reducing many of the obstacles of application complexity and cost uncertainty while targeting aid toward students who are likely to be economically disadvantaged. We study how the introduction of the Flagship scholarship affected college enrollment outcomes for eligible students. Findings suggest that Flagship did not change the likelihood that students enrolled in college, but increased the likelihood they enrolled in UTK by 81%. Flagship-eligible students appear to have chosen UTK over less selective 4-year colleges and universities. The majority of students in Flagship-eligible schools were Black, and the program’s effect on Black student enrollment could have accounted for close to one quarter of the incoming Black student population at UTK.

Policy Reports

Wu, Ge, and Celeste K. Carruthers. Does Career & Technical Education Move with the Labor Market?

Interim report (2021):