Panel: Supporting Families and Improving Equity in Choice-Based School Systems

Saturday, November 10, 2018: 3:15 PM-4:45 PM
Wilson B - Mezz Level (Marriott Wardman Park)

*Names in bold indicate Presenter

Discussant:  Lauren Sartain, University of Chicago

Who Prefers Urban Charter Schools? Evidence from Newark’s Common Enrollment System
Marcus Winters, University of Colorado, Colorado Springs

The Equilibrium Effects of Informed School Choice
Claudia Allende, Columbia University, Francisco Gallego, Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile and Christopher Neilson, Princeton University

Technology, Information, and School Choice: Evidence from a Randomized Controlled Trial
Sarah Cohodes1, Sean Corcoran2, Jennifer Jennings2 and Carolyn Sattin-Bajaj3, (1)Columbia University, (2)New York University, (3)Seton Hall University

The Designs of Student Assignment Mechanisms and Their Implications for Equity: Evidence from New Orleans
Jon Valant, Brookings Institution and Brigham Cody Walker, Tulane University

School choice reforms have proliferated in recent decades, from a growing charter school sector in the United States to an assortment of private school choice programs around the world.  These reforms are often described in efficiency terms—a market initiative that forces schools to attract families or else succumb to low enrollment (Friedman, 1955; Chubb & Moe, 1990a).  However, school choice reforms have important implications for equity as well.  Families without the means to exercise school choice by living in a district with desirable schools or paying for private schooling may rely on school choice programs to have options.

While some programs have demonstrated success in improving outcomes for disadvantaged students (e.g., CREDO, 2015), early hopes that school choice could be a panacea (Chubb & Moe, 1990b) have not materialized.  Choice is challenging for parents and policymakers alike, and there is increasing recognition that the design of choice systems—and the infrastructure supporting those systems—can determine their success.  Recent efforts have emphasized improving the information available to families, building unified enrollment systems to streamline the application process, and ensuring that student placement algorithms reflect the values and goals of their communities.

This session features four studies that explore how families engage in school choice and how policymakers and practitioners can support them as they do.  It focuses particularly on the experiences of disadvantaged families and related questions of equity and access.

The first paper examines trends in the applications submitted through the unified enrollment system in Newark.  Newark’s system enables families to apply to charter and traditional public schools, in ranked order, before receiving a placement via a deferred acceptance algorithm.  This paper assesses how preferences for charter versus traditional public schools vary by applicants’ background characteristics—and whether certain types of families tend to seek out certain types of schools.

The second and third papers each describe randomized controlled trials that evaluate how providing information to school-choosing families affects their choices and subsequent outcomes.  One study randomly assigned applicants to New York City high schools to receive either a curated list of high schools, personalized information through an interactive “app,” or general information through a searchable online directory.  It examines the choices that result.  The other study randomly assigned a group of low-income, pre-kindergarten applicants in Chile to receive information about their options.  It finds positive effects on a number of dimensions, and considers the equilibrium effects in a system with capacity constraints.

The fourth paper examines the design of a unified enrollment system itself.  With data from New Orleans, where a unified enrollment system has displaced residential school assignment altogether, researchers explore how the system’s use of priority classifications affects student placements.  They simulate how placements would differ under alternate formulations of the placement algorithm, focusing on outcomes related to equity, integration, and efficiency.

Through four related papers and the voices of practitioners with on-the-ground experience, this session provides both applied and theoretical insights to inform today’s discussions about school choice.

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