Do Parents Value School Effectiveness?

New Findings, School Reform, October 2017

School choice may lead to improve­ments in school pro­duc­tiv­i­ty if par­ents’ choic­es reward effec­tive schools and pun­ish inef­fec­tive ones. This mech­a­nism requires par­ents to choose schools based on causal effec­tive­ness rather than peer char­ac­ter­is­tics. We study rela­tion­ships among par­ent pref­er­ences, peer qual­i­ty, and causal effects on out­comes for appli­cants to New York City’s cen­tral­ized high school assign­ment mech­a­nism. We use appli­cants’ rank-ordered choice lists to mea­sure pref­er­ences and to con­struct selec­tion-cor­rect­ed esti­mates of treat­ment effects on test scores and high school grad­u­a­tion. We also esti­mate impacts on col­lege atten­dance and col­lege qual­i­ty. Parents pre­fer schools that enroll high-achiev­ing peers, and these schools gen­er­ate larg­er improve­ments in short- and long-run stu­dent out­comes. We find no rela­tion­ship between pref­er­ences and school effec­tive­ness after con­trol­ling for peer qual­i­ty.