The Impact of the Great Recession on Student Achievement: Evidence from Population Data


Kenneth Shores


Matthew Steinberg

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The Great Recession was the most severe economic downturn in the United States since the Great Depression. Using newly available population-level achievement data from the Stanford Education Data Archive (SEDA), we estimate the impact of the Great Recession on the math and English language arts (ELA) achievement of all grade 3-8 students in the United States. Employing a difference-in-differences strategy that leverages both cross-district variation in the economic shock of the recession and within-district, cross-cohort variation in school-age years of exposure to the recession, we find that the onset of the Great Recession significantly reduced student math and ELA achievement. Moreover, the recessionary effect on student achievement was concentrated among school districts serving more economically disadvantaged and minority students, indicating that the adverse effects of the recession were not distributed equally among the population of U.S. students. We also find that the academic impact of the recession was more severe for students who were older at the time of first exposure to the recession, compared to their younger counterparts. Finally, the recession’s effects on student achievement were concentrated in districts with the largest reductions in teacher personnel, providing evidence that the effects we observe are driven, in part, by the recession’s negative effects on school resources. We discuss the implications of and potential policy responses to economic shocks that adversely affect student achievement and widen educational inequality.

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APA Citation

Shores, K., & Steinberg, M. (2017). The Impact of the Great Recession on Student Achievement: Evidence from Population Data.