May 9, 2012


Studying school quality, to fight inequality

New MIT center examines education and its lifelong effects.

May 9, 2012

Education has long been perceived as a great leveler in the United States, providing opportunities throughout society. But at a time of economic struggle, millions of people are wondering if the country’s schools can still provide a platform for success.

“School quality and human capital are major issues on the American policy agenda,” says Josh Angrist, the Ford Professor of Economics at MIT, noting the emphasis President Barack Obama placed on the issue during his most recent State of the Union address.

Yet it is hard for parents to make confident decisions about the subject. “A very difficult question is finding out what is a good school for your child,” says Parag Pathak, a professor in MIT’s Department of Economics. Moreover, state and local civic leaders must continually evaluate schools as well.

That is one reason Angrist, Pathak and economist David Autor have founded the School Effectiveness & Inequality Initiative (SEII), a new center at MIT giving a home to diverse studies of education and its effects on Americans throughout their working lives.

Some of those studies have already made headlines: Angrist and Pathak, working with other scholars, have found that while some Boston charter schools outperform the city’s other public schools, charter schools elsewhere in Massachusetts fail to generate gains in student achievement. They have also found that some highly regarded public schools — which use competitive test-based admissions — may not improve the trajectory of the already-thriving students who are accepted into them.