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Do Parents Know Best? The Short and Long-Run Effects of Attending the Schools that Parents Prefer (WP-18-18)

Diether Beuermann and Kirabo Jackson

Recent studies document that, in many cases, sought after schools do not improve student test scores. Three explanations are that (i) existing studies identify local average treatment effects that do not generalize to the average student, (ii) parents cannot discern schools’ causal impacts, and (iii) parents value schools that improve outcomes not well measured by test scores. To shed light on this, the researchers employ administrative and survey data from Barbados. Using discrete choice models, they document that most parents have strong preferences for the same schools. Using a regression-discontinuity design, they estimate the causal impact of attending a preferred school on a broad array of outcomes. As found in other settings, preferred schools have better peers, but do not improve short-run test scores. The researchers implement a new statistical test and find that this null effect is not due to school impacts being different for marginal students than for the average student. Looking at longer-run outcomes, for girls, preferred schools reduce teen motherhood, increase educational attainment, increase earnings, and improve health. In contrast, for boys, the results are mixed. The pattern for girls is consistent with parents valuing school impacts on outcomes not well measured by test scores, while the pattern for boys is consistent with parents being unable to identify schools’ causal impacts. The results indicate that impacts on test scores may be an incomplete measure of school quality.

Diether Beuermann, Inter-American Development Bank

Kirabo Jackson, Professor of Human Development and Social Policy and IPR Fellow, Northwestern University

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