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Schwartz article on the causal effect of moving schools on student performance

Jun 17, 2016

Moving Matters: The Causal Effect of School Mobility on Student Performance

Amy Ellen Schwartz, Leanna Stiefel & Sarah A. Cordes

Education Finance & Policy, June 2016

Policy makers and analysts often view the reduction of student mobility across schools as a way to improve academic performance. Prior work indicates that children do worse in the year of a school move, but has been largely unsuccessful in isolating the causal effects of mobility. The authors use longitudinal data on students in New York City public elementary and middle schools to isolate the causal effects of school moves on student performance.

The authors account for observed and time-invariant differences between movers and non-movers using rich data on student sociodemographic and education program characteristics and student fixed effects. To address the potential endogeneity of school moves arising from unobserved, time-varying factors, the authors use three sets of plausibly exogenous instruments for mobility: first-grade school grade span, grade span of zoned middle school, and building sale.

The authors find that in the medium term, students making structural moves perform significantly worse in both English language arts (ELA) and math, whereas those making nonstructural moves experience a significant increase in ELA performance. In the short term, there is an additional negative effect for structural moves in ELA. These effects are meaningful in magnitude and results are robust to a variety of alternative specifications, instruments, and samples.