That is a new NBER Working Paper by Atila Abdulkadiroglu, Parag A. Pathak, Jonathan Schellenberg, and Christopher R. Walters, on a much understudied topic. Here are their main results:
School choice may lead to improvements in school productivity if parents’ choices reward effective schools and punish ineffective ones. This mechanism requires parents to choose schools based on causal effectiveness rather than peer characteristics. We study relationships among parent preferences, peer quality, and causal effects on outcomes for applicants to New York City’s centralized high school assignment mechanism. We use applicants’ rank-ordered choice lists to measure preferences and to construct selection-corrected estimates of treatment effects on test scores and high school graduation. We also estimate impacts on college attendance and college quality. Parents prefer schools that enroll high-achieving peers, and these schools generate larger improvements in short- and long-run student outcomes. We find no relationship between preferences and school effectiveness after controlling for peer quality.
You can read that as the parents either being super-smart about what helps their kids — better peers — or the parents being snobby per se. Either way, they don’t seem to care so much about value-added from the side of the school. Or is peer quality actually also the best practical-for-parents measure of value-added, when all is said and done?
So I say this is an inconclusive result from the final normative point of view, but a highly significant result in terms of cementing in some knowledge close to what I already expected was the case.