Economics Thesis Spotlight: Jacob Stern ’20

Stern's research explores how the opening of new schools in Wake County, N.C. affects student achievement in existing neighboring schools.

headshot of Jacob Stern
Jacob Stern ’20

Name: Jacob Stern ’20

Majors: Economics & History

Minor: Leadership Studies

Faculty mentor: Katy Rouse, associate professor of economics

Title of research: The Effect of New School Openings on Achievement in Pre-existing Schools: Evidence from Wake County, N.C.

Abstract: In the last 20 years, the U.S. public-school system absorbed approximately 3.5 million new students (NCES 2018), oftentimes posing schools with overcrowding problems. A common method of combatting the negative educational effects of school overcrowding is to open new schools. For instance, since 2011 Wake County Public Schools has opened 12 traditional elementary schools to account for the influx of 57,000 new students since 2001 (WCPSS 2018).

While new school construction has long been a way to address district growth and overcrowding, minimal research examines how new schools affect student achievement and fewer studies analyze the potential impacts on students assigned to neighboring schools. The limited research suggests ambiguous effects of new school openings on existing neighboring schools. Hashim et al. (2018) find strategic new school openings in the Los Angeles Unified School District negatively affected student achievement in nearby, pre-existing schools. However, Bifulco and Ladd (2006) reveal positive effects of charter school competition on traditional public school (TPS) achievement.

This study adds to the limited literature on the effects of new school openings. Using data from the NC Report Cards and the Wake County Public School System (WCPSS), I compare the effects of both traditional and charter elementary school openings on the student achievement of nearby pre-existing TPSs in Wake County, NC controlling for both school and year fixed effects. I find that the opening of a charter school within two miles increases the proportion of students in a nearby TPS that score at/above grade level on the end of year reading test by 2.20-2.34 percentage points. These benefits are enjoyed primarily by male, African-American, and Hispanic students.

In other words: I examine how opening a school, either charter or traditional public school, affects the achievement of students remaining in the existing school.

Explanation of study/potential impact of findings: It is often costly to open new schools. Before undertaking projects requiring vast amounts of taxpayer dollars, it is important to understand how all students could be affected.

Why did you pick this topic?

I picked this topic because I am passionate about educational justice and maximizing the efficiency and effectiveness of our public school system. I used Wake County as a case study because of its incredible growth and various strategies responding to its growth.

How has your mentor impacted you/your research process?

I cannot imagine my undergraduate experience without the guidance and support of Dr. Rouse. Before the research process began, she reinvigorated my passion for educational justice through her Winter Term class, Educational Disparities. She then gave me the opportunity to assist in a research project she and Dr. Steve Bednar are currently working on, enabling me to evaluate educational policies from multiple vantage points.

Outside of the classroom, Dr. Rouse consistently made time in her busy schedule (teaching, research, raising two boys, serving on committees) when I needed her assistance, or when I just needed someone to listen and support me. Her belief in me, as a student, leader, and person, instilled the self-confidence I needed to pursue my passion of teaching. Undoubtedly, Dr. Rouse has been integral to my research, but I appreciate her mentorship well beyond the research process.