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Parental Preferences and School Competition: Evidence from a Public School Choice Program

Justine Hastings, Thomas J. Kane and Doug Staiger ()
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Thomas J. Kane: U of California, Los Angeles

Working Papers from Yale University, Department of Economics

Abstract: This paper uses data from the implementation of a district-wide public school choice plan in Mecklenburg County, North Carolina to estimate preferences for school characteristics and examine their implications for the local educational market. We use parental rankings of their top three choices of schools matched with student demographic and test score data to estimate a mixed-logit discrete choice demand model for schools. We find that parents value proximity highly and the preference attached to a school's mean test score increases with student's income and own academic ability. We also find considerable heterogeneity in preferences even after controlling for income, academic achievement and race, with strong negative correlations between preferences for academics and school proximity. Simulations of parental responses to test score improvements at a school suggest that the demand response at high-performing schools would be larger than the response at low-performing schools, leading to disparate demand-side pressure to improve performance under school choice. Moreover, given the greater sensitivity to school test scores among high-income and high-scoring youth, the marginal students attracted when a school improves performance would typically raise the average income and baseline test score at the school.

Date: 2005-11
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