Identifies the impact of math coursework on earnings after high school graduation and how completed coursework benefit both low-and high-skilled students in the labor market.
“Labor economists know that a year of schooling raises earnings but have little evidence on the impact of specific courses completed. [This report] identified the impact of math coursework on earnings using the differential timing of state-level increases in high school graduation requirements as a source of exogenous variation. The increased requirements induced large increases in both the completed math coursework and earnings of blacks, particularly black males…Estimates for whites were similar to those of blacks but were much noisier due to the reforms’ weaker impact on white students’ coursework. The results suggested that math coursework was an important determinant of the labor market return to schooling, that simple minimum requirements largely benefited low-skilled students, and that more demanding requirements might be necessary to improve the outcomes of high-skilled students” (p. 1). (Abstractor: Author and Website Staff)

Major Findings & Recommendations

“This paper presents strong evidence that the specific coursework completed during a year of schooling has a significant impact on the labor market return to that year of schooling. For blacks, particularly males, increased graduation requirements induced more completion of math courses, which in turn led to significantly higher earnings. The reforms also closed some of the occupational skill gap between blacks and whites. In this sense, the curricular reforms succeeded at least somewhat in achieving the curricular improvement envisioned by the authors of ‘A Nation at Risk’, causing black students to leave high school with better mathematical preparation. The increased graduation requirements studied here did not, however, have much impact on the majority of students…A subsequent generation of reforms, beginning with exit exam requirements and continuing with the No Child Left Behind Act, has moved beyond simple measurement of time spent in class to measurement of students’ skills and academic achievement. This renewed focus on student capabilities may come closer to achieving the goals envisioned a quarter of a century ago by the authors of ‘A Nation at Risk’, and will provide rich avenues for future research” (p. 26-27). (Abstractor: Author)