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Michela Carlana - Research Summary

Stockholm University

Shaping Educational Careers of Immigrant Children: Motivation, Cognitive Skills and Teachers’ Beliefs

This paper is joint with E. La Ferrara and P. Pinotti. We study the educational choices of children of immigrants in a tracked school system. We first show that immigrants tend to choose vocational over technical or academic-oriented curricula relative to native students with similar ability, as measured by standardized test scores. The gap is greater for male students and it mirrors an analogous differential in retention rates and in the track recommendations received from teachers. We then estimate the impact of an innovative randomized program that provided tutoring and career counseling to a random sample of immigrant children displaying high academic potential. We find that the program was successful in reducing educational segregation: male treated students have a lower probability to fail and a higher probability of attending an academic or technical high-school (as opposed to a vocational one), compared with immigrant students in control schools who started at a similar level of academic ability. The effects are in the same direction but smaller and not significant for girls. To shed light on the mechanisms underlying these effects, we collected data on standardized test scores and on psychological traits. Male treated students display an improvement in cognitive and soft skills (academic motivation and perceived environmental barriers). Both effects seem to have been internalized by teachers, who recommended them for a more demanding high-school. We show that changes in academic motivation induced by the treatment explain a sizable portion of the effect on the high-school choice, while the effect of increases in cognitive skills is negligible. Finally, we analyze the impact of the intervention on native and other immigrant classmates. We find evidence of positive spillovers of the intervention on immigrant peers of treated students, while there is no effect on natives.