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Title page for ETD etd-08052017-205755

Type of Document Dissertation
Author Swain, Walker Alexander
Author's Email Address walker.swain@uga.edu
URN etd-08052017-205755
Title Combatting Poverty by Improving Children's Access to Health Services and Effective Teaching: An Evaluation of Three Social Policies
Degree PhD
Department Leadership and Policy Studies
Advisory Committee
Advisor Name Title
Matthew G Springer Committee Chair
Dale Ballou Committee Member
Helen F. Ladd Committee Member
Mimi Engel Committee Member
  • teacher retention
  • school health
  • health insurance
Date of Defense 2017-06-08
Availability unrestricted
American children of lower-income, Black, or Hispanic parents are more likely to suffer from poorer health, poorer academic performance, and ultimately poorer earnings, higher imprisonment, and earlier deaths than children of higher-income parents. They are also substantially less likely to have access to quality healthcare and highly effective teachers. Research has consistently confirmed correlations between disparate access to quality educational and social services, and poor life outcomes. However, scholars and policymakers need to know more about the effectiveness of policies designed to counteract these inequities.

In this three-essay dissertation, I evaluate the effectiveness of a set of initiatives that seek to reduce health and educational barriers to the success of economically disadvantaged children. The range of obstacles to academic success for children living in poverty is broad. However, I focus here on policies targeting two disparities: a lack of access to healthcare and high-quality instruction. Specifically, the studies evaluate the impacts of three policies: (a) expanded children’s health insurance, (b) school-based health centers (SBHCs), and (c) selective retention bonuses (SRBs) for teachers in high-poverty schools.

Using national data from the Early Childhood Longitudinal Survey (ECLS-K), I find evidence that gaining health insurance coverage increases the frequency of doctor and dentist visits, and decreases the number of school days missed by students. Using rich longitudinal administrative data maintained by the Tennessee Education Research Alliance (TERA), paired with health service records from the Tennessee Office of Coordinated School Health (TNCSH), I also find that increased exposure to health services from SBHC openings improve both the attendance and test scores of students in Tennessee’s non-urban schools. Finally, I find that student test scores improve in response to the implementation of a selective retention bonus program targeting the highest-rated teachers in Tennessee’s lowest performing schools, which are concentrated in high-poverty urban school districts. In conclusion, the results of the three studies provide promising, though modest evidence that interventions designed to improve access to healthcare and effective teachers can decrease barriers to academic success for low-income children.

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