WORKING PAPERS

The past decades have experienced an increase in the enrollment of foreign-born students in U.S. STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) graduate programs. This paper investigates whether having a foreign teaching assistant (TA) in a STEM class affects the outcomes of U.S. undergraduate students. I consider both subjective outcomes (the median evaluation scores) and objective ones (the students’ course outcomes). I use administrative data from a large public uni- versity where TAs are conditionally-randomly allocated to classes. I find that TAs from countries where English is not the language of instruction receive between 0.24 and 0.52 points lower median evaluations scores (on a five-point scale) compared to their native-born counterparts, conditional on course type. I also find that being taught by a foreign TA does not have a significant impact on the students’ objective course outcomes, such as grades, STEM major declaration, and STEM graduation. These findings suggest that evaluations of teaching for foreign TAs should be used with caution as they might not be a clear reflection of teaching quality.

Undergraduate research experience and persistence in STEM (with Margaret Levenstein and Jason Owen-Smith) 

The past decades have experienced an increase in the enrollment of foreign-born students in U.S. STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) graduate programs. This paper investigates whether having a foreign teaching assistant (TA) in a STEM class affects the outcomes of U.S. undergraduate students. I consider both subjective outcomes (the median evaluation scores) and objective ones (the students’ course outcomes). I use administrative data from a large public uni- versity where TAs are conditionally-randomly allocated to classes. I find that TAs from countries where English is not the language of instruction receive between 0.24 and 0.52 points lower median evaluations scores (on a five-point scale) compared to their native-born counterparts, conditional on course type. I also find that being taught by a foreign TA does not have a significant impact on the students’ objective course outcomes, such as grades, STEM major declaration, and STEM graduation. These findings suggest that evaluations of teaching for foreign TAs should be used with caution as they might not be a clear reflection of teaching quality.

WORK IN PROGRESS

Gender and persistence in STEM  (with Margaret Levenstein and Jason Owen-Smith)

Although women have surpassed men in college persistence, female students remain much less likely to major in STEM fields. This paper uses administrative student data from a large public university to study the effects of students' socio-demographic and academic characteristics on the necessary and weakly sequential stages to achieve a STEM degree: taking a STEM course in the first year, declaring a STEM major, and graduating with a STEM major. Using a model similar to that of Heckman and Smith (2004), we compare the STEM trajectories of male and female students and discuss the effects of different student characteristics on each stage of persistence in STEM. We find that male students are 19.8 percentage points more likely to graduate with a STEM degree. These results are driven by the male students declaring a STEM major at a higher rate than female students. As a matter of fact, once a STEM major was declared, only small differences exist in the probability of graduating in STEM between the two genders. Our findings suggest that exploring the different mechanisms affecting the differential propensities of male and female students to major in STEM could reduce the underrepresentation of women in STEM fields.

Narrowing the income and gender academic gaps by means of technology: Intervention in public schools in Colombia (with Luz Karime Abadia and Gloria Bernal)

Unequal access to good quality mathematics education in Colombia is causing large gaps in performance on  mathematics national exams between low- and high-income students. This gap is further exacerbated by differences among female and male students, a phenomenon that has long lasting negative effects on women's career choice and salaries. This project proposes an intervention to improve the mathematics performance of low income students in Colombia, with an emphasis on female students. We propose the use of a computer-aided learning (CAL) program to personalize the learning experience in mathematics of sixth grade students in 30 randomly selected public schools in Bogotá. We combine this CAL tool with an intervention for raising awareness about gender stereotypes and cultivating a growth mindset for the female students. Although CAL tools have proven highly effective in increasing mathematics performance among students from different SES in developing countries Banerjee and Duflo (2011), to the best of our knowledge, this is the first study to combine CAL with interventions aimed at improving gender gaps. This study is important for developing educational policy on narrowing the income and gender academic gaps with the use of technology.

Colombian schools have been closed since March 15, 2020 due to the Covid-19 pandemic, causing concerns over the potential widening of the already large academic gaps between students from different socio-economic strata. We suggest an intervention aimed at narrowing these gaps by assigning online high school students as tutors to fifth graders from more disadvantaged backgrounds. Our intervention consists of two different components. First, we plan to evaluate the impact of tutoring on both academic outcomes, as well as non-cognitive ones for the tutees. Second, we will evaluate whether exposure to peers from lower-economic strata impacts the tutors views on poverty and redistribution of income. 

© 2016 by Daniela Morar & Marushka Baoh