Choice and Consequence: Assessing Mismatch at Chicago Exam Schools

Neighborhoods, New Findings, School Reform, August 2019

The edu­ca­tion­al mis­match hypoth­e­sis asserts that stu­dents are hurt by affir­ma­tive action poli­cies that place them in selec­tive schools for which they would­n’t oth­er­wise qual­i­fy. We eval­u­ate mis­match in Chicago’s selec­tive pub­lic exam schools, which admit stu­dents using neigh­bor­hood based diver­si­ty cri­te­ria as well as test scores. Regression dis­con­ti­nu­ity esti­mates for appli­cants favored by affir­ma­tive action indeed show no gains in read­ing and neg­a­tive effects of exam school atten­dance on math scores. These results hold for more selec­tive schools and for appli­cants most like­ly to ben­e­fit from affir­ma­tive-action, a pat­tern sug­ges­tive of mis­match. However, exam school effects in Chicago are explained by schools attend­ed by appli­cants who are not offered an exam school seat. Specifically, mis­match aris­es because exam school admis­sion diverts many appli­cants from high-per­form­ing Noble Network char­ter schools, where they would have done well. Consistent with these find­ings, exam schools reduce Math scores for appli­cants apply­ing from char­ter schools in anoth­er large urban dis­trict. Exam school appli­cants’ pre­vi­ous achieve­ment, race, and oth­er char­ac­ter­is­tics that are some­times said to medi­ate stu­dent school match­ing play no role in this story.