Indiana University SPEA Edward J. Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy University of Pennsylvania AIR American University

Panel Paper: From Whence It Came: An Empirical Study of the Influence of Education on Developing Public Service Ethos

Saturday, November 14, 2015 : 10:35 AM
Pearson II (Hyatt Regency Miami)

*Names in bold indicate Presenter

Stephen Holt, American University
The motivation that draws people into particular organizations, labor markets, and sectors of the economy has received a great deal of attention across disciplines (for a review, see Koehler & Rainey, 2006). Broadly speaking, motivation for behavior can be broken into intrinsic motives, relating to personal enjoyment, and extrinsic motives, relating to external rewards (Ryan & Deci, 2000a, 2000b). Perry and Wise (1990) argue that rational choice theory, with its focus on extrinsic motives, is insufficient for explaining the prosocial behaviors often observed in volunteer work and public service and proposed public service motivation (PSM) theory as a framework for exploring individuals’ motivations for entering the public sector. Studies using indices developed to measure PSM provide some empirical support for the proposition that motives differ between the public sector and the private sector (Brewer, 2000; Brewer, 2003). Further, when using alternate measures to capture a public service ethos, evidence suggests public sector employees have stronger intrinsic motives in work (e.g. Crewson, 1997; Houston, 2000) and are more likely to engage in prosocial behavior, such as volunteering (Houston, 2005; Lee, 2011; Ertas, 2014).

While much of the previous empirical literature on PSM focuses on testing for differences between people who have self-selected into the public or private sector, less attention has been paid to individual-level formation of a public service ethos. Evidence suggests that course-taking decisions students make in high school have lasting effects on college and career outcomes, but the mechanisms driving these effects are not clear (e.g. Altonji et al., 2012; Long et al., 2012). Introducing students to new information and values may alter their motivational bases in future college and career decisions, providing important social benefits often unmeasured by standardized tests. The proposed study seeks to examine the causal effect of course-taking on public service ethos and prosocial behaviors among high school students by examining participation in courses in untested subjects often intended to teach students about their communities. Specifically, the study will address the following research questions:

  1. Does taking coursework in civics, history, or the social sciences in high school positively influence public service ethos?

  2. Does taking coursework in civics, history, or the social sciences in high school increase the likelihood of volunteering?

To address the proposed research questions, the study will use restricted-use data from the Education Longitudinal Study of 2002 (ELS:2002). The ELS:2002 contains rich student-level data about households, schools, parents, and teachers from a nationally representative sample of high school sophomores in 2002. Importantly, the ELS:2002 provides students' full transcripts and asks students about  a variety of motivators in their sophomore and senior years of high school. The study will use propensity score matching to correct for endogenous selection into courses and control for pre-existing trends in public service ethos and volunteerism. Matching students from treatment and control groups on pre-existing similarities will allow for causal estimates of the effect of civics, history, and social science course-taking on cultivating a public service ethos among high school students.