Leanna Stiefel

Professor of Economics, Director of Education and Social Policy Program

(212) 998-7437
Wednesdays, 2:00-3:00 pm & by Appointment
Leanna Stiefel

Leanna Stiefel, Professor of Economics, teaches courses in multiple regression and economics of education. Her areas of expertise are school finance and education policy, applied economics and applied statistics. Some of her current and recent research projects include: costs of small high schools in New York City; the effects of student mobility on academic performance; the effects of housing instability on academic performance; and segregation, resource use and achievement of immigrant school children. She is author of Statistical Analysis for Public and Non-Profit Managers (1990) and co-author of Measuring School Performance and Efficiency: Implications for Practice and Research (2005) as well as The Measurement of Equity in School Finance (1984), and her work appears in journals and edited books. She is past president of the American Education Finance Association, past member of the policy council of the Association for Public Policy Analysis and Management (APPAM), and a past governor on the New York State Education Finance Research Consortium. She has been a consultant for organizations such as the National Science Foundation, the Education Commission of the States, the New York ACLU, and the Campaign for Fiscal Equity. She received her Ph.D. in economics from the University of Wisconsin-Madison (1972), her AB degree with high honors from the University of Michigan-Ann Arbor (1967), and holds an Advanced Professional Certificate in Finance from New York University's Stern School of Business (1984).

Reforming education policy and finance are at the center of intense debates at all levels of government, driven in part by the recognition of the central role that education plays in the economy. Education affects the productivity of the labor force, the distribution of income, economic growth, and individuals’ earnings and quality of life. This course uses economic principles to analyze K-12 education. The course begins with an examination of the demand for education, both by the private sector (particularly individuals) and the public sector. Next, we consider the production (including teachers as an input) and supply and cost of education. Finally, we turn to the financing of K-12 education in the United States.

The class will be run as a seminar in which we will discuss the content of the assigned readings and try to make recommendations that are empirically and theoretically justified on economic grounds for achieving high performance in elementary and secondary education.

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Multiple regression is the core statistical technique used by policy and finance analysts in their work. In this course, you will learn how to use and interpret this critical statistical technique. Specifically you will learn how to evaluate whether regression coefficients are biased, whether standard errors (and thus t statistics) are valid, and whether regressions used in policy and finance studies support causal arguments.

In addition, using a number of different datasets, you will compute the statistics discussed in class using a statistical computer package, and you will see how the results reflect the concepts discussed in class. If you choose, you can do a larger data and regression project in a team.

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2017

Abstract

The passage of landmark federal legislation in 1975 guaranteed students with disabilities (SWDs) a free appropriate public education. Over time, reauthorization of this legislation has highlighted the importance of educating SWDs in the general education environment where appropriate, and significant interaction with general education peers who are not receiving special education services (GENs) has followed. The largest U.S. school district—New York City (NYC), the setting of our study—mirrors this national trend toward more inclusive environments. Despite the trend, a critical question remains: Does inclusion in fact feel inclusive? This study provides a district-wide descriptive analysis of feelings of inclusion among SWDs compared to their GEN peers. We rely on detailed, longitudinal administrative and student survey data on approximately 249,000 NYC middle school students attending schools that educate both SWDs and GENs (which we call traditional schools in contrast with schools that educate only SWDs). Our results suggest that while gaps between SWDs overall and GENs are quite small, there is some heterogeneity. Specifically, students with an emotional disturbance (ED) and other health impairments (OH) feel modestly less included with peers but more with adults. There are, however, almost no differences in feelings of inclusion between students assigned exclusive and inclusive services, even for those in the ED and OH groups. In fact, for students with low incidence (LI) disabilities, feelings of inclusion are slightly better when assigned exclusive services.

2016

Amy Ellen Schwartz, Leanna Stiefel, and Sarah Cordes. Moving Matters: The Causal Effect of School Mobility on Student Performance. Education Finance and Policy
Forthcoming

2015

Abstract

Research finds that small high schools deliver better outcomes than large high schools for urban students. An important outstanding question is whether this better performance is gained at the expense of losses elsewhere: Does small school reform lift the whole district? We explore New York City’s small high school reform in which hundreds of new small high schools were built in less than a decade. We use rich individual student data on four cohorts of New York City high school students and estimate effects of schools on student outcomes. Our results suggest that the introduction of small schools improved outcomes for students in all types of schools: large, small, continuously operating, and new. Small school reform lifted all boats.

Abstract

The notion that children from ‘good’ neighbourhoods are destined for success while those from ‘bad’ neighbourhoods are destined for failure has considerable popular appeal. Residential location is strongly linked to school quality, access to educated adults, exposure to violence, etc. There is, however, surprisingly little evidence on the link between the neighbourhood in which a child begins school and later schooling outcomes. Understanding early neighbourhood experiences is important for determining whether students are ‘stuck’ in neighbourhoods of disadvantage. It is also critical for determining the extent to which students who begin their schooling careers in disadvantaged neighbourhoods are destined for poor schooling outcomes, and conversely, whether changing neighbourhood context improves student performance. In this study, therefore, we document how students’ early neighbourhood and schooling experiences are related to later success in school, and explore how changing neighbourhood and school contexts explain differences in academic outcomes. Using data from New York City (NYC), we construct a panel containing all students enrolled as first graders in NYC public schools in 1996–1997, following them through academic years 2007–2008, which would be their 12th grade year if they made standard academic progress (annual one-grade promotion). Far from supporting the simplistic story of ‘dead-end’ neighbourhoods, our analyses describe a situation where students from poor neighbourhoods actually move more often than their peers in less disadvantaged neighbourhoods and are more likely to experience changes in neighbourhood and school quality, with 45.7% of neighbourhood moves from the poorest neighbourhoods being made to significantly higher quality neighbourhoods.

2014

Abstract

This entry briefly outlines the origin of school finance statistics and describes the Berne-Stiefel framework for identifying the values of school finance equity.  It then introduces various measures of horizontal, vertical, and taxpayer equity and concludes by highlighting school finance research that utilizes these measures.

2013

Abstract

We evaluate the effectiveness of small high school reform in the country's largest school district, New York City. Using a rich administrative datasest for multiple cohorts of students and distance between student residence and school to instrument for endogenous school selection, we find substantial heterogeneity in school effects: newly created small schools have positive effects of graduation and some other educational outcomes while older small schools do not. Importantly, we show that ignoring this source of treatment effect heterogeneity by assuming a common small school effect yields a misleading zero effect of small school attendance.

2011

Abstract

In the last few years, millions of homes around the country have entered foreclosure, pushing many families out of their homes and potentially forcing their children to move to new schools. Unfortunately, despite considerable attention to the causes and consequences of mortgage defaults, we understand little about the distribution and severity of these impacts on school children. This paper takes a step toward filling that gap through studying how foreclosures in New York City affect the mobility of public school children across schools. A significant body of research suggests that, in general, switching schools is costly for students, though the magnitude of the effect depends critically on the nature of the move and the quality of the origin and destination schools.

Abstract

This paper explores the effect of the human capital characteristics of co-ethnic immigrant communities on foreign-born students’ math achievement. We use data on New York City public school foreign-born students from 39 countries merged with census data on the characteristics of the immigrant household heads in the city from each nation of origin and estimate regressions of student achievement on co-ethnic immigrant community characteristics, controlling for student and school attributes. We find that the income and size of the co-ethnic immigrant community has no effect on immigrant student achievement, while the percent of college graduates may have a small positive effect. In addition, children in highly English proficient immigrant communities test slightly lower than children from less proficient communities. The results suggest that there may be some protective factors associated with immigrant community members’ education levels and use of native languages.

2010

Abstract

In 2005, immigrants exceeded 12% of the US population, with the highest concentrations in large metropolitan areas. While considerable research has focused on how immigrants affect local wages and housing prices, less research has asked how immigrants fare in US urban public schools. Previous studies find that foreign-born students outperform native-born students in their elementary and middle school years, but urban policymakers and practitioners continue to raise concerns about educational outcomes of immigrants arriving in their high school years.

The authors use data on a large cohort of New York City (NYC) public high school students to examine how the performance of students who immigrate during high school (teen immigrants) differs from that of students who immigrate during middle school (tween immigrants) or elementary school (child immigrants), relative to otherwise similar native-born students. Contrary to prior studies, their difference-in-difference estimates suggest that, ceteris paribus, teen immigrants do well compared to native-born migrants, and that the foreign-born advantage is relatively large among the teen (im)migrants. That said, their findings provide cause for concern about the performance of limited English proficient students, blacks and Hispanics and, importantly, teen migrants. In particular, switching school districts in the high school years - that is, student mobility across school districts - may be more detrimental than immigration per se. Results are robust to alternative specifications and cohorts, including a cohort of Miami students.

 

2009

Abstract

With the financial support of several large foundations and the federal government, creating small schools has become a prominent high school reform strategy in many large American cities. While some research supports this strategy, little research assesses the relative costs of these smaller schools. We use data on over 200 New York City high schools, from 1996 through 2003, to estimate school cost functions relating per pupil expenditures to school size, controlling for school output and quality, student characteristics, and school organization. We find that the structure of costs differs across schools depending upon mission-comprehensive or themed. At their current levels of outputs, themed schools minimize per pupil costs at smaller enrollments than comprehensive schools, but these optimally sized themed schools also cost more per pupil than optimally sized comprehensive schools. We also find that both themed and comprehensive high schools at actual sizes are smaller than their optimal sizes.

Abstract

Reorganizing primary school grade spans is a tractable and relatively inexpensive school reform. However, assessing the effects of reorganization requires also examining other organizational changes that may accompany grade span reforms. Using data on New York City public schools from 1996 to 2002 and exploiting within-school variations, we examine relationships among grade span, spending, and size. We find that school grade span is associated with differences in school size, class size, and grade size, though generally not with spending and other resources. In addition, we find class size and grade size differences in the same grade level at schools with different configurations, suggesting that school grade span affects not only school size but also class size and grade size. We find few relationships, though, between grade span and school-level performance, pointing to the need to augment these analyses with pupil-level data. We conclude with implications for research and practice.

2008

Abstract

The goal of this book, the first in a series, is to bring policymakers, practitioners, and scholars up to speed on the state of knowledge on various aspects of urban and regional policy. What do we know about the effectiveness of select policy approaches, reforms, or experiments on key social and economic problems facing cities, suburbs, and metropolitan areas? What can we say about what works, what doesn’t, and why? And what does this knowledge and experience imply for future policy questions?

The authors take a fresh look at several different issues (e.g., economic development, education, land use) and conceptualize how each should be thought of. Once the contributors have presented the essence of what is known, as well as the likely implications, they identify the knowledge gaps that need to be filled for the successful formulation and implementation of urban and regional policy.

2007

Abstract

The Handbook traces the evolution of the field from its initial focus on school inputs (per pupil expenditures) and the revenue sources (property taxes, state aid programs, etc) used to finance these inputs to a focus on educational outcomes (student achievement) and the larger policies used to achieve them. It shows how the current decision-making context in school finance inevitably interacts with those of governance, accountability, equity, privatization, and other areas of education policy. Because a full understanding of the important contemporary issues requires inputs from a variety of perspectives, the Handbook draws on contributors from a variety of disciplines.

2006

Abstract

Insight comes from hindsight.  By reviewing enduring problems in education finance and policy, observing what we did right and seeing when we were surprised and why, we can identify research issues that we missed, avoid similar mistakes in the future, and move forward toward work that is even more productive and useful in the field of education finance and policy.

2005

Abstract

This chapter develops and explores the use of school-level cost functions for estimating school efficiency and differentiating between more- and less-efficient schools. Using data for elementary and middle schools in the state of Ohio, we explore a range of specifications and the resulting efficiency measures. The next section presents and overview of the literature on education cost functions. In the third section we present the theory of cost functions, and in the fourth section we describe the data. The fifth section provides estimation results, and the chapter concludes in the fifth section with implications and lessons for future research.

1998

Abstract

School reform leaders from Chicago (Illinois), Denver (Colorado), New York (New York), Seattle (Washington), Philadelphia (Pennsylvania), and Los Angeles (California) created the Cross City Campaign for Urban School Reform to work to improve urban education so that all urban youth are well-prepared for postsecondary education, work, and citizenship. Papers in this volume provide insights into an approach advocated by the Cross City Campaign, the small schools movement.

1997

Berne, R. & Stiefel, L.. Student-Level School Resource Measures. in William J. Fowler, editor, Selected Papers in School Finance. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Department of Education, National Center on Education Statistics, NCES 97-536.

1995

Berne, R., Cipollina, N., Netzer, D. & Stiefel, L.. Estimating the Fiscal Impact of Secession: The Case of Staten Island and New York City. Public Budgeting and Financial Management, Vol. 7, No. 2, Summer 1995, pp 147-169.

1994

Abstract

This article explores conceptual, methodological, and empirical issues in resource allocation at the intradistrict and school levels. With increased attention focused on policies and data related to resources within districts, it is important that analytical problems and potential solutions be debated by researchers. The article develops ways that equity concepts can apply at the school level, identifies a series of methodological issues, and includes an empirical analysis of vertical equity at the intradistrict and school levels in New York City.

1993

Abstract

This is a comprehensive, clearly written guide to the use of statistical analysis in the management of not-for-profit organizations. The book emphasizes statistical models that use more than one variable and is unique in presenting multivariate statistics specifically with the public and the not-for-profit manager in mind. Examples throughout have been chosen to be relevant to the not-for-profit organization and each chapter contains several "real-life" illustrations of how statistical techniques can be used in actual practice. In addition to explaining statistical methods and techniques in detail, the author focuses on why statistics should be used and helps the reader obtain an intuitive grasp of the rationale behind the statistics.

1983

Abstract

Differing methodologies and varied conclusions in research about equity trends in school finance make it impossible to assess national status in school finance reform by using existing studies. Evidence suggests, however, that although horizontal equity has not been achieved, the situation improved from 1940 to 1960 and worsened from 1960 to 1977.

1982

1981

Abstract

It is generally thought that across-the-board tax limits, white encouraging fiscal restraint, create hardships for jurisdictions with above average and uncontrollable needs. Because of the recent imposition of most limits, the conclusion is difficult to confirm empirically. This article provides a test of the conclusion based on a study of New York State city school districts where limits long in effect were suspended between 1970 and 1978 because of unusual local behavior and legislative action. Because some, but not all, districts took advantage of legislatively granted authority to tax beyond their limit, art empirical investigation can be used to explain this behavior. The results of the analysis, which show that low ability to pay, low inter-governmental grants, and high needs account for much of the behavior of districts that exceed limits, are helpful in designing flexible tax limits.

Berne, Robert and Leanna Stiefel. Measuring the Equity of School Finance Policies: A Conceptual and Empirical Analysis. Policy Analysis, 7 (1):47-70.  Reprinted in Ray C. Rist, ed., Policy Studies Review Annual, Volume 6, Sage, Beverly Hills, CA., 1982: 620-642.

1979

Abstract

Numerous value judgments are embedded in the standards used to evaluate whether a school finance system has become more or less equitable over time. Data from 20 states are analyzed to demonstrate that alternative value judgments affect the measurement of a state's movement toward or away from equity.

1976

Abstract

In this article, the authors present their comments on the book "The New World of Economics," by Richard B. McKenzie and Gordon Tullock. McKenzie and Tullock differ from the other authors in three respects. First, they abandon any reference at all to traditional economic topics. Second, they write in an extremely forceful and provocative style, advocating economic concepts and principles above those of all other disciplines. Third, they adopt a single focal point virtually throughout the volume, namely, individual maximization of utility through the equating of marginal utility or benefit and marginal cost. The book is excellent in its gradual introduction of concepts, usually only one or two in each chapter, and in cleverly discussing them in the context of a particular problem. Unfortunately, the explanation of the basic tools of economics in the first chapter is not adequate for most students with no economics background. The equality of the ratio of marginal utility to price across goods and services is particularly inadequate in its development, given the difficulty many students have with the principle.