School choice in Los Angeles

By Christopher Campos and Caitlin Kearns have some very positive results on school vouchers:

This paper evaluates the Zones of Choice (ZOC) program in Los Angeles, a school choice initiative that created small high school markets in some neighborhoods but left traditional attendance zone boundaries in place throughout the rest of the district. We leverage the design of the program to study the impact of neighborhood school choice on student achievement, college enrollment, and other outcomes using a matched difference-in-differences de-sign. Our findings reveal that the ZOC program boosted test scores and college enrollment markedly, closing achievement and college enrollment gaps between ZOC neighborhoods and the rest of the district. These gains are explained by general improvements in school effectiveness rather than changes in student match quality, and school-specific gains are concentrated among the lowest-performing schools. We interpret these findings through the lens of a model of school demand in which schools exert costly effort to improve quality.The model allows us to measure the increase in competition facing each ZOC school based on household preferences and the spatial distribution of schools. We demonstrate that the effects of ZOC were larger for schools exposed to more competition, supporting the notion that competition is a key channel driving the impacts of ZOC. In addition, demand estimates suggest families place a larger weight on school quality compared to peer quality, providing schools the right competitive incentives. An analysis using randomized admission lotteries shows that the treatment effects of admission to preferred schools declined after the introduction of ZOC, a pattern that is explained by the relative improvements of less-preferred schools. Our findings demonstrate the potential for public school choice to improve student outcomes while also underscoring the importance of studying market-level impacts when evaluating school choice programs.

Here is a link to the paper, note that Christopher is on the job market this year from UC Berkeley.

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