Preferences, Information, and Parental Choice Behavior in Public School Choice
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.
We would like to thank Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools for allowing us to study parental choice behavior in its district. Jacob Gramlich and Hillary Gramlich provided excellent assistance creating and distributing the information sheets. We would also like to thank Judy Chevalier, Alan Gerber, Donald Green, Thomas Kane, Dean Karlan, Michael Kremer, Sendhil Mullainathan, Douglas Staiger, Rebecca Thornton, Ebonya Washington, and participants at the Yale University Institution for Social and Policy Studies lunch, the Yale University Labor-Public Finance Lunch, and the 2006 Economic Science Association conference for valuable input. We gratefully acknowledge support from the Smith Richardson Foundation and the Institution for Social and Policy Studies at Yale University. The views expressed herein are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Bureau of Economic Research.
- Parents who received the information sheets increased their participation in the choice program by 23 percent relative to those who did...