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Alexandra de Gendre successfully defends thesis

On Monday 29 March, Alexandra de Gendre successfully defended her PhD thesis on “Behavioral Barriers to Success in Education”

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This dissertation investigates the role of aspirations and beliefs in explaining children’s educational outcomes, and explores how they can exacerbate socioeconomic disadvantage in education. Chapter 1 proposes an easily-implementable methodology to estimate the potential size of aspirational poverty traps in a given population - an important quantity which indicates the scope for reducing achievement gaps by lifting aspirations. Chapter 2 shows that policy uncertainty about student finance can alone deepen achievement gaps as early as upon entering middle school. This finding highlights that reducing uncertainty in student finance could alleviate barriers in access to higher education for vulnerable populations. Chapter 3 indicates that higher-achieving peers not only improve test scores, but also trigger a host of behavioral changes in children and parents, yet these intermediate responses do not explain peer effects in test scores. This finding suggests that peer assignment policies such as tracking or school admission policies can be leveraged to increase students’ aspirations and reduce achievement gaps. Chapter 4 shows that teachers rely on imperfect signals about children’s ability, and form systematically biased expectations about their potential, intensifying disadvantage in the short and longer run. This study, however, also suggests that the consequences of teacher bias can be limited by admissions policies in which teacher assessments have little weight. This dissertation, overall, demonstrates that aspirations and beliefs of students, parents and teachers matter for children’s educational success, and that educational policies may reduce socioeconomic disadvantage through their impact on aspirations and beliefs.

> More about the thesis: https://doi.org/10.26481/dis.20210329ag

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