Market Signals: Evidence on the Determinants and Consequences of School Choice from a Citywide Lottery
Working Paper 45
The Walton Family Foundation
- Parents trade off school demographics and academic performance with distance when choosing schools.
- Parents tend to prefer schools where their children have at least some peers of the same race or ethnicity, but some parents also prefer a diverse school to a homogeneous one.
- Preferences vary by race, income, and grade level.
- Simulations suggest that parent preferences, if allowed to dominate school assignment (with no capacity constraints), translate into more racial and economic integration and higher enrollment in high-performing schools.
This working paper describes (1) what parents look for when they choose a school and (2) how these preferences affect the sorting of students into schools under different school-choice policies. The findings are based on lists of preferred schools submitted by over 20,000 applicants to a citywide lottery for more than 100 traditional and charter public schools in Washington, DC. The results confirm previous findings that commuting distance, school demographics, and academics play important roles in school choice. However, we also found considerable variation in parents’ preferences.