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Market Signals: Evidence on the Determinants and Consequences of School Choice from a Citywide Lottery

June 15, 2016 BY The SchoolMint Collective

Steven Glazerman and Dallas Dotter, Mathematica Policy Research, June 15, 2016


This paper describes what parents are looking for when they choose a school and how these preferences affect the sorting of students under different school-choice policies. The findings were based on lists of preferred schools submitted by over 20,000 applicants to a citywide lottery for more than 100 traditional and charter public schools in Washington, DC.

The results confirm previous findings that commuting distance, school demographics, and academics play important roles in school choice, but the study also found considerable variation in parents’ preferences.

Summary of findings:

  • Parents trade off demographics and academic performance scores with distance when selecting schools.
  • Parents tend to prefer schools where their children have at least some peers of the same race or ethnicity, though some parents also prefer a diverse school to a more homogeneous one.
  • Preferences vary by income, race, and grade level.

Read more and view or download the publication from Mathematica Policy Research.