October 29th, 2014
from the Minneapolis Fed
During the last two decades, many countries have implemented different forms of school choice that depart from residential-based assignment. The aims of school choice programs are to improve the matching between children and schools as well as to improve students’ educational outcomes. Yet, the concern is that disadvantaged families are less able to exercise choice, which leads to equity concerns.
When school choice is implemented, the presumption is that the final allocation will be largely determined by parents’ preferences. In this paper, we provide empirical evidence that challenges this presumption. In a nutshell, we show that under the most widely used school choice mechanism around the world, most families avoid revealing their preferences and systematically apply for schools in their neighborhood. Only some of the advantaged families will be able to choose their preferred school.
Under centralized school choice procedures, parents are asked to submit a list with their ranking of schools, and then a set of rules determines the final allocation. One of the most widely used procedures in school choice is the so-called Boston mechanism, henceforth the B-mechanism or BM. This mechanism assigns all applicants to the school ranked first, and if there is overdemand for a school, ties are resolved according to priorities. These priorities can be defined through a random lottery or according to criteria such as distance to the school, existence of siblings in the school, or other socioeconomic variables.