Research Cases

Family Decision Processes and the Quality of Secondary Schooling Decisions

By February, 2016 No Comments
a diligent student making notes

Dr. Pamela Giustinelli, Ph.D.,Research Assistant Professor, Survey Research Center, Institute for Social Research, University of Michigan

Dr. Charles F. Manski, Ph.D., Board of Trustees Professor of Economics, Dept. of Economics and Institute for Policy Research, Northwestern University

Date Published
February, 2016

School choice has evolved dramatically over the past several decades. In part this is due to the role that social scientists and policy makers have played in implementing student-school matching algorithms with desirable theoretical properties. Yet our understanding of decision-making on school choice for Americans has not kept pace with the increased variety and number of schooling alternatives now available to American families and the increasingly complex process by which students are sorted into schools and programs. In fact, little is known about how schooling decisions are made. There are no data sets that contain comprehensive information on adolescents’ perceptions about available schooling options, the application/admission process, or their subjective expectations about short- and long-term consequences of alternative choices. In this article, the authors consider the collection of novel subjective data on family processes of schooling decisions. In particular, they review recent progress on survey measurement of expectations, information, and locus of decision of American families within the context of secondary schooling, and they discuss possible future developments by providing concrete examples from recent exploratory efforts. The authors argue that collection of data on adolescents’ and parents’ perceptions of the available school options and the application-and-admission rules, their subjective expectations about short- and long-term consequences of alternative choices, and their assessments of the locus of decision making within families could greatly enhance economic modeling and contribute to effective econometric analysis of schooling decisions. A key role of The Human Project will be to gather data on expectations of applicants to secondary schools in New York City, which is the ideal laboratory given that it has the largest and most dynamic public school system in the country, as well as perhaps the most complex secondary school application and admission process. Improved understanding of whose expectations matter for school choice and how these expectations are formed will help policymakers provide more informative communications to families and improve the design of the school assignment mechanism.

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