Feasible Peer Effects: Experimental Evidence for Deskmate Effects on Educational Achievement and Inequality
Tamás Keller, Felix Elwert
Abstract: Schools routinely employ seating charts to influence educational outcomes. Dependable evidence for the causal effects of seating charts on students’ achievement levels and inequality, however, is scarce. We executed a large pre-registered field experiment to estimate causal peer effects on students’ test scores and grades by randomizing the seating charts of 195 classrooms (N=3,365 students). We found that neither sitting next to a deskmate with higher prior achievement nor sitting next to a female deskmate affected learning outcomes on average. However, we also found that sitting next to the highest-achieving deskmates improved the educational outcomes of the lowest-achieving students; and sitting next to the lowest-achieving deskmates lowered the educational outcomes of the highest-achieving students. Therefore, compared to random seating charts, achievement-discordant seating charts would decrease inequality; whereas achievementconcordant seating charts would increase inequality. We discuss policy implications.
Keywords: deskmates; peer effects; field experiment; achievement; inequality; Hungary