Panel Paper: Technology, Information, and School Choice: Evidence from a Randomized Controlled Trial

Saturday, November 10, 2018
Wilson B - Mezz Level (Marriott Wardman Park)

*Names in bold indicate Presenter

Sarah Cohodes1, Sean Corcoran2, Jennifer Jennings2 and Carolyn Sattin-Bajaj3, (1)Columbia University, (2)New York University, (3)Seton Hall University

New York City requires all 8th grade students to engage in a school choice process to be assigned to a high school through a centralized assignment mechanism. The admissions process is complex and cognitively demanding, requiring students to select among schools with different screening methods, curricular themes, and admissions preferences. To test the potential of information to help students navigate the process, we fielded a series of informational interventions in a school-level randomized controlled trial. The initial year of our study tested the effect of a paper-based informational tool – a list of relatively high-performing high schools -- in a school-level RCT of 165 high-poverty New York City middle schools (Corcoran, Jennings, Cohodes, and Sattin-Bajaj, 2018). We found that access to the informational tool increased applications to listed schools and decreased the likelihood that students attend a high school with a graduation rate below 70%.

This paper presents the results from a second year of the school-level RCT, which expanded the number of schools served to over 450 and the types of interventions offered to include a variety of technological innovations. School personnel received the intervention tools to distribute, along with supportive materials (lesson plans, video guides, and support from the study office), simulating the most likely mode of dissemination if a school district were to adopt such tools. Schools were randomly assigned to one of three informational interventions or a control group. The three interventions were:

1) Curated List of High Schools: this group received a middle school-specific concise listing of 26 geographically proximate high schools with graduation rates above 70%, along with travel time information, the graduation rate, and information about how to apply. In cross-randomization within this group, students received either a digital or paper version of the tool. A further cross-randomization made slight variations to the high school list. A third of high school lists included a caution about two nearby high schools that had low graduation rates and a third of the lists included a caution about two nearby high schools that had low admissions rates.

2) Personalized Information about High Schools from a School Choice “App”: this group received a guided introduction to an interactive smartphone/web-based tool designed to help students translate their preferences into a list of school recommendations. The app serves as a “virtual guidance counselor,” prompting students to identify their current middle school and their preferences for commute time, academic interests, and extra-curricular interests. It then generates a list of schools, along with performance data, that students can save, share, and explore further.

3) General Information about High Schools from a Searchable Directory: This group received a guided introduction to the NYCDOE SchoolFinder, a search engine for finding high schools launched in the 2016-17 high school admissions cycle. Since all students had access to this tool (including in the control group), this group allows us to test the effect of the supportive materials that were offered as part of the intervention.

Results will be available for presentation at the APPAM conference.