When Educators Are the Learners: Private Contracting by Public Schools

Silke J. Forbes, Nora E. Gordon

NBER Working Paper No. 18185
Issued in June 2012
NBER Program(s):Economics of Education, Industrial Organization, Public Economics

We investigate decision-making and the potential for social learning among school administrators in the market for school reform consulting services. Specifically, we estimate whether public schools are more likely to choose given Comprehensive School Reform service providers if their "peer" schools--defined by common governance or geography--have performed unusually well with those providers in the past. We find strong evidence that schools tend to contract with providers used by other schools in their own districts in the past, regardless of past performance. In addition, our point estimates are consistent with school administrators using information from peers to choose the plans they perceive to have performed best in the past. Despite choosing a market with an unusually comprehensive data source on contracts between public schools and private firms, our statistical power is sufficiently weak that we cannot reject the absence of social learning.

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Document Object Identifier (DOI): 10.3386/w18185

Published: Silke Forbes & Nora Gordon, 2012. "When Educators Are the Learners: Private Contracting by Public Schools," The B.E. Journal of Economic Analysis & Policy, Berkeley Electronic Press, vol. 12(1), pages 31. citation courtesy of

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