PhD Dissertations in Public Policy

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This collection is updated quarterly. For the most complete record of electronic dissertations please see the ETD Collection.


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Now showing 1 - 10 of 45
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    The effect of the policy of reconstitution on student achievement in Texas
    (2015-12) Cumpton, Gregory, 1972-; Lincove, Jane Arnold; King, Chris; Reyes, Pedro; Stolp, Chandler; Triesman, Uri
    The failure of schools across the country to ensure students meet federal, state, and community standards continuously plagues the education system. More than a quarter of all schools in the nation failed to meet federal requirements in 2007, with 38% failing to do so in 2010. By 2011 that figure rose to nearly 50%. Failing schools ostensibly produce failing students who experience poorer outcomes than their peers including reduced earnings over their lifetime. A potential solution to failing schools is to reconstitute them. School reconstitution requires all staff at a failing school to reapply for their positions with the stated aim of improving student achievement. Started as a court-mandated desegregation action in San Francisco in 1983, school reconstitution quickly spread across the country in the 1990s. Incorporated into local and state accountability systems, scholars estimate thousands of schools reconstituted between 1983 and 2011. Despite its prevalence, information regarding how reconstitution began, spread, and made its way into Texas statute is scarce and theories related to why reconstitution should improve student performance lack cohesion. Even worse, little to no quantitative evidence demonstrates whether reconstitution improves student achievement. This dissertation takes advantage of a Texas law passed in 2003 mandating that schools failing to meet state standards for two years in a row must reconstitute. Estimated effects of reconstitution on student achievement apply state-wide student and school data between 2003 and 2011. Several methods, including regression discontinuity and student-level fixed-effects determine whether reconstitution improves student achievement and if developed theories explain this improvement. Discussion includes national, state, and local policy recommendations.
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    The role of the Pastoral da Criança program in the infant mortality transition in Brazil, 1980-2000
    (2015-08) Fujiwara, Luis Mario, 1971-; Stolp, Chandler; Potter, Joseph E.; Roberts, Bryan; Wilson, Robert; Wong, Patrick
    This dissertation focuses on the role Brazil’s innovative Pastoral da Criança program had on the transition in infant and child mortality observed in that country from 1980 to 2000. Using a variety of approaches to program evaluation, this study provides insights into the novel implementation of the Pastoral program and its overall effectiveness in contributing to the infant and child mortality transition in Brazil. This dissertation also tries to understand how it was that the Pastoral managed to succeed in promoting development when so many other efforts have failed in the past. Given the environment of complexity in which this evaluative exercise was carried out, triangulation, complementarity, development, initiation, and expansion analysis were used, at the micro level of evidence, to the macro level of methods, to generate robust estimations of the Pastoral overall impact in terms of reducing infant and child mortality, as well as of the Pastoral’s effects in terms of promoting community and women’s empowerment.
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    What has been the preliminary impact of federal programs to promote the adoption of electronic health records?
    (2015-05) Palmer, Stephen Charles; Warner, David C.; Heinrich, Carolyn; Osborne, Cynthia; Sage, William; Richardson, Sam
    The objective of this study is to assess the preliminary impact of federal programs established to promote the adoption of EHRs on the patterns, rates, and levels of EHR adoption. Statewide surveys of physicians and hospitals in Texas fielded between 2010 and 2012 are supplemented with other data, and then analyzed with logistic regression modeling, technology diffusion models, and regression discontinuity designs, supplemented with key informant interviews. The models did not consistently yield large or significant effect estimates. The logit models did not show any significant changes in the patterns of EHR adoption. The technology diffusion models showed a small, significant effect on adoption rates. The regression discontinuity (RD) design models showed a moderate, insignificant effect of the programs on adoption levels. Overall, the data and methods used in this study do not support the claim that the federal EHR promotion programs had a significant effect.
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    Targeting education to reduce obesity : at what life stages are interventions effective?
    (2015-05) Benson, Rebecca Irene Josephine; Angel, Jacqueline Lowe; von Hippel, Paul T.; Cubbin, Catherine; Hayward, Mark; Heinrich, Carolyn
    Obesity is a serious policy problem, contributing an estimated $113.9b to medical expenditures in the US. Like many health outcomes, obesity is not distributed at random in the population but is concentrated amongst the less educated. Given this, many have suggested that if more people were to become highly educated, the obesity epidemic might be curtailed. However, this assumes that the association between education and obesity is a causal one, which is not necessarily the case. Moreover, previous research in lifecourse epidemiology suggests that education may occur too late in the lifecourse to have any effect on health trajectory. I perform three empirical studies to examine whether there is a plausibly causal relationship between education and body weight, and examine whether there is a point at which it is too late to alter body weight trajectories using education. All three studies use data from the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth 1979 (NLSY79), a complex random sample of the US civilian population aged 14-22 in 1978 and followed for more than three decades. In the first study, a cross-sectional regression finds a relationship between education and BMI. I use fixed effects models with individual slopes to test whether gaining a qualification leads to a change in BMI while controlling for individual heterogeneity, and find there is no effect. In study two, I consider the effects of education completed “on-time” with education completed “late”. Fixed effects models show that women who earn bachelor’s degrees on time benefit from lower BMI, but there is no benefit for late degrees or other qualifications and men do not similarly benefit. The third study stratifies the analysis by early-life circumstances and finds that in a cross-sectional analysis at age 45 only the most advantaged strata benefited from having earned a bachelor’s degree. In fixed effects models, gaining a degree did not lead to a change in BMI for any group. Collectively, these findings cast doubt on education’s viability as a policy tool to address obesity, and suggest that at some point in the lifecourse it is too late to alter BMI trajectories by improving socio-economic status.
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    Demographic diversity in the measurement and meaning of unintended pregnancy
    (2014-08) Aiken, Abigail R. A.; Osborne, Cynthia Anne, 1969-; Potter, Joseph E.
    Unintended pregnancy is a significant public policy issue in the United States, yet current understanding of the measurement and meaning of women’s pregnancy intentions is incomplete. The aim of this dissertation is to provide new theoretical insight into women’s childbearing intentions and feelings about pregnancy, particularly when these two measures appear to be incongruent (i.e. women report feeling happy about pregnancy, but at the same time report wanting no more children). Incongruence is particularly common among Hispanic women, and current literature tends to view such women as ambivalent, assuming that they lack a clear and strong desire to avoid conception. Ambivalence, in turn, has been linked to less effective contraceptive use. Using a mixed-methods approach, this dissertation examines the hypothesis that incongruent intentions and feelings are not necessarily a reflection of ambivalence but rather two distinct concepts: women may be quite resolute about avoiding future pregnancies, yet for various reasons still express happiness at the prospect of a pregnancy. In Chapter 1, we examine prospectively measured happiness and intentions among a cohort of Latina pill-users at the U.S.-Mexico border, providing evidence that feelings of happiness about pregnancy may co-exist with effective use of contraception and with plans to continue method use long-term to prevent conception. In Chapter 2, we investigate the relationship between happiness and contraceptive desires, demonstrating that women with incongruent intentions and feelings often desire highly effective or permanent methods that they do not have the ability to access. Finally, in Chapter 3, we explore the concepts of happiness and intentions and the factors underlying each from women’s own perspectives through in-depth interviews, and provide a range of explanations for why happiness about pregnancy may be expressed even when another child would be a significant financial or emotional burden. Findings strongly suggest that automatically classifying women with incongruent intentions and feelings as ambivalent may lead to inaccurate measurement of unintended pregnancy, hinder understanding of the difficulties these women face in obtaining effective contraception, and limit the ability to devise strategies to prevent unintended pregnancy and address disparities across racial and ethnic groups.
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    Emotional and Spiritual Security
    (Hogg Foundation for Mental Health, 1960) McDanald, Eugene C. Jr.
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    Saving water in farming : methodology for water conservation verification efforts in the agricultural sector
    (2013-05) Ramirez Huerta, Ana Karina; Eaton, David J.
    This dissertation develops, tests and validates statistical methods for verifying the amount of water conserved as a result of investments in precision leveling, other on-farm conservation measures in place, weather variation and farmer behavior. This evaluation uses a sample of 328 unique fields from Lakeside Irrigation Division in Texas over a six-year period, totaling 966 observations. Results show that precision leveling accounts for a 0.30 acre-feet reduction of irrigation water per acre leveled. This Mixed-Level Model (MLM) estimate for precision leveling water savings is more precise than the estimates either from an Ordinary Least Square Model or a Fixed Effect Model. A meta analysis combines the results from this model with other similar studies. Although the mean estimate of the meta-analysis is similar to the MLM estimate, the meta-analysis further reduces the standard error of the mean precision leveling estimate by 2 percent. A better approximation of the acre-feet water savings per acre farmed translates into less uncertainty for water regulators, managers and policymakers regarding the volume of conserved water that is available for transfer.
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    The path to timely completion : supply- and demand-side analyses of time to bachelor's degree completion
    (2014-05) Cullinane, Jennifer Page; Lincove, Jane Arnold; Treisman, Uri
    Time to degree is a key factor in institutional productivity and managing the costs of college for students and families. While there is a robust body of empirical and theoretical work addressing baccalaureate degree completion and persistence, much less is known about the factors that affect time to degree. Most importantly, the institutional factors associated with time to degree have been largely unexamined, with a primary focus on the characteristics of students who delay graduation. As a result, it is unclear if students or institutions should be the target of policy interventions. This dissertation is comprised of three quantitative studies that examine supply- and demand-side factors that contribute to timely—or not so timely—completion using statewide longitudinal student-level data from Texas. The first study uses a discrete-time hazard model to analyze a rich set of institutional and student factors that influence the choice between on-time graduation, late graduation, dropout, and ongoing enrollment. The second explores the impact of student transfer on time to degree and one possible mechanism for delay using propensity score matching analysis. The third examines excess credit accumulation, specifically how the number of credits an institution requires for graduation affects student course-taking behavior using fixed effects analysis. Results suggest time to degree is a complex phenomenon and both student and institutional factors are significantly associated with time to degree. Student transfer and credit requirements are associated with excess credit accumulation and longer times to degree. Supply side policy strategies targeting institutional resources, transfer, and graduation credits are promising, although there is evidence that strategies aimed at improving efficiency can be in tension with strategies that improve equity in higher education and degree completion.
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    Mexico’s national security framework in the context of an interdependent world : a comparative architecture approach
    (2013-08) Martinez Espinosa, Cesar Alfredo; Ward, Peter M., 1951-
    In a more complex and interdependent world, nations face new challenges that threaten their national security. National security should not be understood exclusively in the way of military threats by adversarial states but in a broader way: how old and new sectoral threats affect not only a state and its institutions but a nation as a whole, physically and economically. This dissertation looks into how the nature of security threats and risks has evolved in recent years. This dissertation then explores how different nations have decided to publish national security strategy documents and analyzes the way in which they include this broadened understanding of security: it finds that there is evidence of international policy diffusion related to the publication of such security strategies and that nations are evolving towards a broader understanding of security that includes models like whole-of-government, and whole-of-society. In the second half, this dissertation analyzes the route through which Mexico has reformed its national security framework since the year 2000 through a policy streams approach. After looking at the path that led to the creation of Mexico’s modern national security institutions, it analyzes the way in which Mexico national interests can be determined and how these interests inform the way in which Mexico understands national security threats and risks in the 21st Century.
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    From growth-based to people-centered : how Chinese leaders have modified their governing strategies to sustain legitimacy in the reform era
    (2013-12) Zhang, Wenjie, active 2013; Galbraith, James K.
    This dissertation analyzes changes in the ruling strategies of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) in the context of economic reforms, beginning in 1978. By employing both quantitative and qualitative methods, this dissertation investigates how Chinese leaders have utilized legitimating strategies, while modifying their governing strategies, in order to a) solidify the population, b) consolidate ruling authority and c) maintain political and social stability. Specifically, this dissertation looks at how Chinese policymakers have developed effective public policies in response to rapidly rising wage inequality, one of the most pressing problems undermining the CCP’s ruling authority. By providing an original estimate of China’s wage inequality and analyzing the government’s response to it, this dissertation provides a unique look at how the CCP has transformed government functions from growth-based to people-centered to meet various social, political and economic challenges. A comparative statistical analysis helps illustrate the philosophical roots and sources of the CCP’s political legitimacy. The technique of Theil Statistics is applied to measure China’s wage inequality during the reform period. A multivariate hierarchical regression analysis is employed to measure the impact of rising inequality on Chinese society. Two models on social welfare system reform are studied in order to understand Hu Jintao and Wen Jiabao’s people-centered governing philosophy and the rationale for constructing a service-oriented government.