11.126J | Spring 2007 | Undergraduate, Graduate

Economics of Education


Course Meeting Times

Lectures: 2 sessions / week, 1.5 hours / session

Recitations: 1 session / week, 1 hour / session


This course combines economic theory, econometric literature and institutional literature to examine current issues in U.S. education. Topics include (but will not be limited to): The basic theory of investments in education (human capital theory); the empirical problem of disentangling the return to education from the return to innate ability; the role of education in national economic growth; the association between education and individual earnings and reasons why that relationship has changed over time; the role of early childhood education; the main approaches to K-12 school reform (money, choice, educational standards, and teacher selection/training); and the problem of increasing access to higher education. Along the way, we will discuss computers both in their effect on educational requirements and their potential role in teaching skills. We will also discuss the role of education in individual mobility and in national growth.

Class Participation (Three Kinds)

An education course is a good place to try to improve your education. In particular, I want you to engage with the material and minimize “chalk and talk” where I do all the talking and you sit in your seats taking notes, doing email, etc. We are going to institute two or three procedures to help push in this direction:

  • On the first day of class, we will decide whether we will choose one student each day to take class notes. If we adopt this system, the notes will then be distributed electronically to other students in the class. This should allow other students to focus more on class discussion. No student will be asked to do the notes for more than one class and a student who takes notes will be exempt from questions for the next class (see below).
  • Beginning with the second class, each student should bring to class two good questions they have developed about that day’s readings. Students will hand in the questions at the beginning of class and the first part of each class will involve me calling on four or five students and using their questions to begin the day’s discussion. I will grade each pair of questions as Exceptional, Satisfactory, or Unsatisfactory. When a student cannot attend class, they should email their questions to me on the morning of the class.
  • Policy debates to be held in section. Many issues we discuss involve significant controversy - e.g. the effect of increased spending or school choice on student achievement. To clarify these issues, we will hold a series of 25 minute student debates in Friday sections. Students will sign up in advance and we will try to give every student the opportunity to participate.


Problem sets 20%
Mid-term 25%
Final exam 35%
Class and recitation participation 20%

Peter will run the weekly section meeting and hold office hours. The first two section meetings will present the basic econometrics needed to read many of the course readings. Subsequent sections will expand on material in class and will hold assigned student debates on various topics.


14.01 or its equivalent is required and 14.30 or its equivalent is recommended. Students who have no experience with basic econometrics can fill in their background in the first section meetings (see above).

Course Info

As Taught In
Spring 2007
Learning Resource Types
Problem Sets with Solutions
Exams with Solutions
Lecture Notes