Date of Graduation


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy in Education Policy (PhD)

Degree Level



Education Reform


Albert Cheng

Committee Member

Patrick J. Wolf

Second Committee Member

Jay P. Greene


Civics education, Educational leadership, Holocaust education, Private school choice, Public Education, Religious education, value formation


Since the founding of the United States, scholars and policymakers have argued that education should not merely train the minds of students, but also prepare them for active participation in a democratic republic. This dissertation, divided into three chapters, studies the leaders, schools, and content that shape students’ character.

While educational leadership in U.S. public schools is widely studied, there is much less scholarly attention to educational leadership in Protestant and other private schools. The first chapter investigates principal leadership and tests for systematic differences in educational priorities and preparation for their responsibilities by educational sector. Using a nationally-representative sample of about 870 U.S. principals in public, Protestant, Catholic, and private secular school principals, this chapter examines what educational goals principals prioritize and how much training principals receive in seven areas of school leadership. This chapter finds evidence that Protestant school principals have different emphases than their counterparts in other sectors and train for their responsibilities differently.

In Chapter 2, I turn to the achievement effects of religious schools. This chapter answers this question in the context of the Louisiana Scholarship Program (LSP), a school voucher initiative offering publicly-funded scholarships to students from economically-disadvantaged families to attend participating private schools. This chapter identifies causal estimates of LSP religious and Catholic schools and tests for differences in program impacts by the religious affiliation of the student’s first preference school. No consistent evidence of mediation that is robust across two analytical sample specifications is detected.

In Chapter 3, I turn to the question of whether education can shape students’ civic character. American adults overwhelmingly agree that the Holocaust should be taught in schools, yet few studies investigate the potential benefits of Holocaust education. This chapter evaluates the impact of a Holocaust education conference on knowledge of the Holocaust and several civic outcomes, including “upstander” efficacy (willingness to intervene on behalf of others), likelihood of exercising civil disobedience, empathy for the suffering of others, and tolerance of others with different values and lifestyles. Two cohorts of students are recruited from three local high schools and randomly selected to attend the Arkansas Holocaust Education Conference, where students have the chance to hear from a Holocaust survivor and to participate in breakout sessions led by Holocaust experts. This chapter finds evidence that the conference increased participants’ upstander efficacy, and marginally significant evidence that the conference improved historical knowledge of the Holocaust.