School Choice Leads to Informed Parents
The Department of Education Reform at the University of Arkansas has released a new working paper that finds an increased availability of school choice in a given community results in parents who are better informed about their children’s schools and educations. It may seem like an obvious point, but in the social sciences, truth is often counterintuitive so the more data and rigorous analysis that exists, the better.
From the abstract:
Theories of school choice suggest that parents need to and can make informed decisions that will tend to situate their students in appropriate schools. School choice, in a sense, brings elements of participatory democracy into the world of compulsory education, and thus brings the same potential benefits and problems that have long challenged democratic theorists. Increasing choices to parents may give them an incentive to raise their information levels about the schools their children attend. Akin to the information gathering of consumers in a marketplace, choice parents should have more reasons to gather more information about their schools than parents without options. Alternatively, a lack of any increase in information levels amongst school choosers would suggest that despite the increased incentives to gather information, having choices per se is not sufficient to overcome the costs of information gathering.
To test whether the availability of school choice increases parent information about schools, we analyze data from the second year experimental evaluation of the Washington Scholarship Fund, a privately-funded partial-tuition voucher program. We find that presenting parents with choices does lead to higher levels of accurate school-based information on measures of important school characteristics. Specifically, parents in the school choice treatment group provided responses that more closely matched the school-reported data about school size and class size than did parents of control group members.
And from the conclusion:
Since accurate information is important for consumers to make effective choices, these results are generally consistent with the claims made by school choice supporters that low-income inner-city parents can and will become informed educational consumers. That, alone, is a significant finding.