Identifying Key Papers in the Economics of Education

This article documents how I went about identifying key papers as a starting point in researching the economics of education.


  1. Motivation
  2. Approach
  3. Results


First, let me give some motivation and background. I’m in the early stages of dissertation writing and my primary interest is in the economics of education. In particular, I am interested in alternative credentials, but I am attempting to broaden to education in general because I have had a tough time locating data for alternative credentials. I have also been encouraged by others to publish on certain more traditional topics including the use of vouchers. I think it’s important to listen to others during research. I don’t buy the lone scholar approach.

As an economist, I am looking for ways to improve education outcomes. This may mean increasing investment where the ROI is positive, and it may mean implementing austerity to combat waste. In determining ROI, I need to investigate the education literature to come up with reasonable measures of education and factors of performance among other things. I seek common approaches, measures, and conclusions. I also seek open questions.


My initial approach was to create 5 categories of interesting papers, and attempt to find at least 5 papers in each category. This results in a first-pass goal of 25 papers.

Here are the categories:

  1. Recent papers in top journals of education
  2. Highly regarded education papers, in terms of cites/year, regardless of journal or time
  3. Recent papers in top economics journals regarding education
  4. Highly regarded papers in the economics of education, in terms of cites/year, regardless of journal or time
  5. Highly regarded papers on the psychology of learning and education, in terms of cites/year, regardless of journal or time

First I do a bit of research to identify the top journals of interest. This is discussed in the results section. The journal research happens first to yield some keywords with which I can conduct a Google Scholar query using Harzing’s Publish or Perish. The query identifies the highly regarded papers in terms of citations. After some journals were identified, I looked over their recent articles in the following way:

  1. Scan the titles of each published article in the 3 most recent publications
  2. If the title caught my eye, read the abstract
  3. Read a minimum of 3 abstracts per journal
  4. If the abstract has my interest, quickly scan the article.
  5. If it still looks interesting, add it to my list of interesting articles. Add a brief note about why I liked it.

After that I proceed to use Harzing’s Publish or Perish to identify the other articles. Overall, here’s what I’m looking for in the papers:

  1. Keywords
  2. Author names
  3. Research designs
  4. Open and closed questions
  5. Interesting prior papers, via citations. In particular, citations in common
  6. Evidence related to my current questions
    1. Economics of alternative credentials
    2. An ABM of voucher efficacy
    3. An ABM of higher education enrollment and graduation
    4. Methods of improving student and teacher performance. In particular, malleability of traits or behaviors.
      1. For example, can we train students and teachers to be gritty and conscientious?


While performing the research, I obtained far more than 25 papers. As a result, I only identify the interesting journals in this section.

See this article for the list of specific and interesting articles found, as well as brief notes about why each item was considered interesting.

According to Scimago Journal Rankings for Education, these are the top 10 journals in education:

  1. Journal of Engineering Education (SJR indicator = 6.18)
  2. American Educational Research Journal
  3. Journal of Research in Science Teaching
  4. American Journal of Education
  5. Internet and Higher Education
  6. Review of Educational Research
  7. Journal of the Learning Sciences
  8. Journal of Teacher Education
  9. Computers and Education
  10. Child Development (SJR indicator = 3.08)

Also of interest is #12, which deals directly with questions of education policy: Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis.

Here are the top 5 open access journals:

  1. Journal of Education Policy (SJR indicator = 2.36)
  2. Practical Assessment, Research and Evaluation
  3. Medical Education
  4. Educational Technology Research and Development
  5. International Review of Research in Open and Distance Learning (SJR indicator = 1.35)

From this pool of journals, I identified these of interest to me:

  1. Journal of Engineering Education
    1. Although I don’t care about engineering, the rank and SJR indicators are so high I want to take a look.
  2. American Educational Research Journal
  3. American Journal of Education
  4. Internet and Higher Education
    1. Because of my special interest in alternative credentials.
  5. Review of Educational Research
  6. Journal of the Learning Sciences
  7. Child Development
    1. Because cognitive development is known to play a special role in education.
  8. Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis
  9. Journal of Education Policy
  10. Educational Technology Research and Development

I didn’t find any interesting open access journals in economics, but here are the top 10 economics journals:

  1. Quarterly Journal of Economics
  2. Journal of Finance
  3. Econometrica
  4. Review of Financial Studies
  5. Journal of Financial Economics
  6. Journal of Economic Literature
  7. Review of Economic Studies
  8. American Economic Journal: Applied Economics
  9. American Economic Review
  10. Journal of Political Economy

Because my interest is not finance, I want to exclude the Review of Financial Studies and Journal of Financial Economics.

I’ll include the Journal of Finance due to it’s high rank.

Two other journals of interest, bringing the total to 10, include #17, American Economic Journal: Macroeconomics and #19, American Economic Journal: Economic Policy.

The result is a list of 20 interesting journals. The next step is to dive into the papers themselves. As mentioned, see this article for those details.

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