Sentences of sadness

There is growing empirical evidence that low-income parents place lower
weights on academics when choosing schools, implying that school choice
plans may have the smallest impact on the choices of the families they
are targeting.

Here is much more.  I can’t find a non-gated version but here are other relevant papers.


This doesn't sound terribly surprising. In a lower-income family, you're likely to be more concerned with proximity to jobs and safety than the actual education.

Then again, it could be something to do with the fact that lower-income families may not even realize that you have the ability to CHOOSE a school. Most of the time, you're stuck going to whatever school happened to be closest to where you could afford to live.

for the free version

It took some. Thank you Larry and Sergey.

I think I remember reading in Freakonomics that school quality doesn't really matter that much in terms of educational outcomes. If they just wind up with a better environment to spend 7 hours of their day in, that sounds like a good enough reason to celebrate.

The dirty little secret about school choice is that it is should be most important to the middle and upper middle class. They are the ones who plunk down $1m for a house in a great area, only to find terrible schools. See the Heritage Foundation here .

Pacific Research Institute scholars Lance Izumi, Vicki Murray, and Rachel Chaney offer this alarming wake-up call for parents in their new book: Not as Good as You Think: Why the Middle Class Needs School Choice. The authors tell a troubling story about the quality of public schools in California's middle-class communities:

Too many students at these schools are not grade-level proficient in English. Too many of these students are not grade-level proficient in math. And too many of these students are not ready for college-level work. The supposedly "good" schools that these students attend have produced disturbingly bad results.

Personal experience: Sausalito is known for having some of the worst schools in California, even with lots of extra funding. The reason is that Marin City (primarily black and poor) is part of the district, and all of the wealthy white parents in Sausalito send their kids to private schools. We sent our son to the Sausalito charter school for a year, which is literally next door to the Sausalito elementary school, and then decided to move because even that school wasn't what we thought was right for our sons.

Given that every parent in Marin City knows that the charter school is available, why don't they all want to send their children there even though it has higher academic scores? I don't know, but I'm sure it's a complicated mix of race, academics and inertia.

Echoing Matt, the alternate interpretation is that the people who will benefit most from school choice are those who are least concerned with school quality. If school choice raises the floor and the ceiling on school performance then potentially the least discriminating consumers will gain from the work of the more selective consumers. Lots of people still buy cars that Consumer Reports advises against but no one buys a car as mediocre as those available on the US market before Toyota and Honda arrived. Likewise, choice and competition (above some minimum threshold) will raise the bar of all schools, especially the low-performers.


Anybody stupid enough to think education works like consumer goods markets should have to explain why there isn't a McHarvard franchise on their block.

School choice lets a few find more appropriate schools. But there's no evidence that it actually causes schools overall to improve.

Why does this make you sad, do you want everyone to be grade grind? I had a freind from Korea who brought his daugters here to get them out of a country where the children leave for school early in the morning and then go to tutoring ariving home at about 10:00pm.

Also remember Michael Faraday and Thomas Edison and my grand parents went to very little school.

IMO Schools test/give credentials more than educate.

Sophie is dead right .The trouble is that I read a soundly based paper saying the same thing 40 years ago. When we find something which works to improve education, why do we almost always lurch into policies which are proven not to work instead? Probably the worst example is when our political masters try to improve education simply by pouring in money. There is a mountain of imformation which says "more teachers and/or more equipment and/or more support staff and/or sparkling new buildings equal damn-all educational improvement"; unless you do sensible, carefully designed and proven things with extra resources - like making sure parents have and understand data on which schools will give thier kids the best chance in life.

Floccina -- I was just riffing on what you'd written!

Another factor is perhaps that most people don't even know what a "good school" is. To someone not terribly bright, two schools that teach the same thing at the same time means those schools are equal. Or perhaps "my kid doesn't need to know latin/trig/calculus/chemistry, etc..." Education has been so poor for so long, many wouldn't know it if a McHarvard High School was plopped on their block.

Sadly, there may not be a market for good education in all places.

Alternatively, suburbanites whine way too much about public schools - they really, for most of us, are doing just fine. An anectdote:

Some number of years ago, I was out to dinner with a bunch of my friends and a couple most of us had never met with a daughter about to attend high school. They mentioned they were looking at private schools for her because they (incorrectly) believed that even the AP classes in this suburban district would be just teaching to the standardized state test. We sort of all listened and let it slide past; later I spoke with some of the people there and we compared notes - and every single one of us had been the product of public schools; every single one of us (at the time) was working for IBM; and every single one of us was financially successful. School districts had ranged from urban to suburban to rural; some of us were just 5 years out while others were 20 years out; but we all had one thing in common: we'd all heard when we were in school how bad public schools were, back then, too.


Here in Austin, now, I've noticed that a substantially disproportionate number of the parents we meet who send their kids to private school and who will talk your ear off about how bad public schools are live in the attendance boundaries of the best elementary school in the district - which beats the pants off private schools on any objective benchmark you can derive.

In short: when you hear people who have kids in private schools talking down public schools, think 'signalling device', not actual educational quality.

James Heckman has a new paper on how the government has been yanking our chain about high school dropout rates improving, when they've actually gotten worse since the late 1960s:

The beautiful thing about competitive markets is that a small minority of informed buyers can cause an industry to improve its quality/price ratio without the majority of the buyers caring or taking any action. That's because of the disproportionate effect of marginal revenues (either positive or negative) on profitability.

Don't give a damn-all about drip coffee makers? Don't worry - there is a significant minority of the US which is obsessed with this question and has a lot of influence on manufacturers.

Andrew on Jan 3 said this more succinctly but I thought it was worth expanding upon in more detail.

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