Shopping for Schools: Mapping Choice Architecture in the Education Marketplace

Shopping for Schools: Mapping Choice Architecture in the Education Marketplace

Working Paper 59
Published: Dec 01, 2017
Publisher: Washington, DC: Mathematica Policy Research
Associated Project

In the School Choice Era, Making Shopping for Schools Easier

Time frame: 2015-2018

Prepared for:

U.S. Department of Education, Institute of Education Sciences

The Walton Family Foundation


Steven Glazerman

If school choice is to work well, consumers need information—as they do in any marketplace—about the alternatives available to them. An emerging source of consumer information in the world of school choice is the universe of school shopping websites. The design choices of these online sites have the potential to have an impact on the effectiveness school choice policies. Behavioral scientists refer to the set of these design decisions as choice architecture. This paper describes the choice architecture of the most prominent school shopping websites at a point in time: September 2017. We selected 14 school shopping websites pertaining to 12 U.S. cities and analyzed the choices that the designers of each site had made. Such choices include the default sort order of schools, the presence and location of a map, the amount of information presented on the main page, the number and types of indicators used to describe schools’ performance and offerings, and the accessibility of the sites to non-English speakers and families who lack computers and rely on smart phones. We found a diversity of approaches to presenting school information, which may reflect a lack of consensus on best practices, although it may also reflect the diversity of goals of each site and priorities in each community.

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