Information and Parental Choice

As the school year draws to a close around the country, many parents with school choice options for next year made the decision about what school their child will attend months ago.  However, accountability ratings for this school year have yet to be released in many areas.  How do parents use information about school performance to influence decisions on where to send their children to school?  In a paper released in 2009, researcher Michael Henderson seeks to answer this question.  His paper, Information and Exit: Do Accountability Ratings Help Families Choose Schools, reports findings on a study of the relationship between student school transfer and school accountability grades.  One possible explanation Henderson reports is that parents have formed perceptions on school quality prior to the release of accountability ratings.  In Citizen Perceptions of Government Service Quality: Evidence from Public Schools, Harvard researchers found that people’s perceptions of public schools in their neighborhood are generally in line with publicly available accountability information.  The authors’ find conflicting evidence about whether the similarities are due to available accountability information or observations.

If parents do not use accountability ratings to choose a school for their child, then how do they decide?  In the study of parental decision-making, Do Parents Do as They Say?  Choosing Indianapolis Charter Schools, Choice Center researchers found that although parents stated that academics was the primary consideration for choosing a different school, this was not evidenced in the actual choice based on academic achievement and AYP ratings.  This small sample of research seems to indicate that people are aware of the quality of schools in their area but accountability ratings do not seem to influence school attendance choices.  To all the parents out there, what would you consider if you had the ability to choose which school to send your child to next school year?

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The NCSC is funded by a 5 year, $13.3 million grant from the U.S. Department of Education's Institute of Education Sciences. Its lead institution is Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee. The center is housed on the campus of Peabody College, one of the nation's top graduate schools of education.