Preferences, Information, and Parental Choice Behavior in Public School Choice

Justine S. Hastings, Richard Van Weelden, Jeffrey Weinstein

NBER Working Paper No. 12995
Issued in March 2007
NBER Program(s):Children, Economics of Education, Industrial Organization, Public Economics

The incentives and outcomes generated by public school choice depend to a large degree on parents' choice behavior. There is growing empirical evidence that low-income parents place lower weights on academics when choosing schools, but there is little evidence as to why. We use a field experiment in the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Public School district (CMS) to examine the degree to which information costs impact parental choices and their revealed preferences for academic achievement. We provided simplified information sheets on school average test scores or test scores coupled with estimated odds of admission to students in randomly selected schools along with their CMS school choice forms. We find that receiving simplified information leads to a significant increase in the average test score of the school chosen. This increase is equivalent to a doubling in the implicit preference for academic performance in a random utility model of school choice. Receiving information on odds of admission further increases the effect of simplified test score information on preferences for test scores among low-income families, but dampens the effect among higher-income families. Using within-family changes in choice behavior, we provide evidence that the estimated impact of simplified information is more consistent with lowered information costs than with suggestion or saliency.

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Document Object Identifier (DOI): 10.3386/w12995

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