Panel: Shopping for Schools: Examining Policies that Help Parents Navigate School Choice

Thursday, November 2, 2017: 3:30 PM-5:00 PM
Water Tower (Hyatt Regency Chicago)

*Names in bold indicate Presenter

Panel Organizers:  Steven Glazerman, Mathematica Policy Research
Panel Chairs:  Douglas Lauen, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill
Discussants:  Tim Daly, Ed Navigator and Lisa Barrow, Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago

Presenting School Information to Parents: Analysis of Design Principles for School Shopping Websites
Ira Nichols-Barrer and Steven Glazerman, Mathematica Policy Research

The Trump Administration has signaled that school choice is going to be a central component of its education policy.  But for school choice to work, it is necessary for parents to have the tools they need to choose wisely. There is a growing sense among education researchers and policymakers that simply increasing the number of choices available to families is not enough.  Rather, a well-functioning school choice system requires carefully designed support structures that attend to families’ needs.  This panel examines a core type of support: information that helps families navigate school choice systems and select high-quality schools for their children.

School choice markets provide a clear example of how better data can yield better decisions.  Families in many cities confront a bewildering array of choices and application processes that can be time-consuming and confusing.  Without help with navigating these systems, families might not participate successfully in school choice processes—or might not participate at all.  This presents an opportunity to governments and other organizations.  By providing useful information and support services to families, these organizations help both the families who receive these services (by helping them identify good schools for their children) and the broader functioning of school choice markets (by ensuring that high-quality, desirable schools receive the greatest interest). 

This panel features four studies—diverse in methods and disciplinary perspectives—that aim to improve our understanding of how to better inform and support school-choosing families.  More specifically, the panel includes authors of two randomized information experiments and two qualitative studies:

  • A randomized factorial experiment from all 50 states studying how small changes in the way school profiles are shown to low-income parents can affect their understanding of the information, the extent to which they find the information satisfying and easy to use, and their eventual school choices.

  • A randomized controlled trial in New York City that assigned middle school students to different types of information sessions and then tested how these sessions affected families’ requests and placements—and how the effects differed across subgroups.

  • Student and parent perspective on New York City’s high school choice system based on detailed interview data

  • A mixed-methods evaluation of a Washington, DC program that matched school-choosing families with parent advocates in hopes of improving participation in DC’s school choice system, particularly among disadvantaged families.

Taken together, these studies provide rich, new evidence on a question of growing importance: how to inform and support school-choosing families.  Policymakers and practitioners participated in the development of each study, and the studies aim to generate evidence and knowledge of immediate use to these groups.

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