Effective Public Education
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School quality influences children’s cognitive and social development. Attending lower-quality schools reduces a child’s chances of attending and succeeding at postsecondary institutions, thereby negatively affecting their potential for economic success.

Evidence of the Relationship between Predictor and Related Outcomes

  • School quality is an important predictor of student achievement. Smaller class sizes and greater teacher quality are key components of school quality and are associated with increases in student achievement as measured by grades, test scores, and college attendance (Brühwiler and Blatchford 2011; Chetty et al. 2011; Chingos and Whitehurst 2011; Jennings et al. 2015; Shin and Chung 2009).
  • School infrastructure quality also affects student outcomes (Vazquez-Martinez, Hansen, and Qunitero 2020). For example, schools with poor air filtration and those located near environmental hazards can create adverse health effects that lead to absenteeism and lower student achievement (Vazquez-Martinez, Hansen, and Quintero 2020).
  • School quality and spending (which improves quality) may translate into improved economic outcomes later in life. Higher-quality classroom experiences as early as kindergarten are linked to higher earnings at age 27 (Chetty et al. 2011).
  • The literature is mixed on whether school quality improvements have a larger effect on low-income versus high-income students. For example, one study looked at how the quality of school a student attended affected their likelihood of attending college and found a 12 percent larger effect for higher-income students than for lower-income students (Jennings et al. 2015). Nevertheless, studies assert that improving school quality, particularly in disadvantaged areas, can reduce income inequality (Chetty et al. 2011).
  • Attending high-quality, well-funded public school promotes educational attainment, graduation rates, student achievement, and higher wages later in life (Jackson, Johnson, and Persico 2016; Johnson and Jackson 2019; LaFortune, Rothstein, and Schanzenbach 2018). Increasing per pupil spending 10 percent in all 12 school-age years reduces the annual incidence of poverty in adulthood for children from low-income families (Jackson, Johnson, and Persico 2016).

How Investments Can Influence the Predictor at State or Local Levels

Given the strong evidence that higher school spending can improve school quality and student outcomes, investments in schools may be critical at local levels. Early and sustained investments may yield the best outcomes for students, given the compounding nature of the effects of school spending and student skills, particularly for low-income students (Johnson and Jackson 2019). Communities need to decide how best to use the increased funds and balance choices such as reducing class sizes; improving teaching quality through training teachers, changing curricula, or raising teacher salaries; and investing in upgraded school infrastructure, like improved indoor air quality (Chingos and Whitehurst 2011; Vazquez-Martinez, Hansen, and Quintero 2020). 

Other effective strategies for improving school quality include extending learning time and replacing teachers with more effective educators (Schueler et al. 2020).


The primary reference is marked with an asterisk.

Brühwiler, Christian, and Peter Blatchford. 2011. “Effects of Class Size and Adaptive Teaching Competency on Classroom Processes and Academic Outcome.” Learning and Instruction 21 (1): 95–108.

Chetty, Raj, John N. Friedman, Nathaniel Hilger, Emmanuel Saez, Diane Whitmore Schanzenbach, and Danny Yagan. 2011. “How Does Your Kindergarten Classroom Affect Your Earnings? Evidence from Project STAR.” Quarterly Journal of Economics 126 (4): 1593–1660.

Chingos, Matthew M., and Grover J. Whitehurst. 2011. Class Size: What Research Says and What it Means for State Policy. Washington, DC: Brown Center on Education Policy at the Brookings Institution.

*Jackson, C. Kirabo, Rucker C. Johnson, and Claudia Persico. 2016. “The Effects of School Spending on Educational and Economic Outcomes: Evidence from School Finance Reforms.” Quarterly Journal of Economics 2016: 157–218.

Jennings, Jennifer L., David Deming, Christopher Jencks, Maya Lopuch, and Beth E. Scheuler. 2015. “Do Differences in School Quality Matter More Than We Thought? New Evidence on Educational Opportunity in the Twenty-first Century.” Sociology of Education 88 (1): 56–82.

Johnson, Rucker C., and C. Kirabo Jackson. 2019. “Reducing Inequality through Dynamic Complementarity: Evidence from Head Start and Public School Spending.” American Economic Journal: Economic Policy 11 (4): 1–40.

LaFortune, Julien, Jesse Rothstein, and Diane Whitmore Schanzenbach. 2018. “School Finance Reform and the Distribution of Student Achievement.” American Economic Journal: Applied Economics 10 (2): 1-26.

Schueler, Beth E., Catherine Armstrong Asher, Katherine E. Larned, Sarah Mehrotra, and Cynthia Pollard. 2020. “Improving Low-Performing Schools: A Meta-Analysis of Impact Evaluation Studies.” EdWorkingPaper 20-274. Providence, RI: Annenberg Institute at Brown University.

Shin, In-Soo, and Jae Young Chung. 2009. “Class Size and Student Achievement in the United States: A Meta-analysis.” KEDI Journal of Educational Policy 6 (2): 3–19.

Vazquez-Martinez, Alejandro, Michael Hansen, and Diana Quintero. 2020. “Unsafe School Facilities Reinforce Educational Inequities among Marginalized Students.Brown Center Chalkboard (blog), September 1. 

Rausch, John David Jr. 2001. “Cumulative Voting Comes to the Amarillo Independent School District: A Research Note.” Politics & Policy 29: 602–19. 

Rocha, Rene, Caroline J. Tolbert, Daniel C. Bowen, and Christopher J. Clark. 2010. “Race and Turnout: Does Descriptive Representation in State Legislatures Increase Minority Voting?” Political Research Quarterly 63 (4): 890–907.


Related outcome: Age-appropriate cognitive development and educational attainment

Mobility dimension engaged: Economic success

Couple with Stroller Illustration