AIM Research: Marissa Thompson – Experimental Evidence on Parental Preferences Regarding School Segregation

January 23 @ 1:00 pm - 2:00 pm

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How do parents make choices about schools, and to what extent does this shape school segregation patterns? To what extent do misperceptions about the severity of school segregation shape parents’ policy choices? In this presentation, I will discuss two interrelated survey experiments designed to answer these questions.

In the first study (coauthored with Sam Trejo), we conduct a nationally representative survey of parents to explore how beliefs about and preferences for economic school segregation are shaped. Using experimental manipulation, we test if learning about levels of local school segregation affects a parent’s attitudes towards school segregation. In doing so, our study helps uncover whether disagreement with respect to segregation-reducing policies stems from differences in parental perceptions of the extent of segregation in their district or from differences in parental preferences given existing levels of segregation. We find that parents hold largely inaccurate perceptions of local segregation and on average underestimate the extent to which their school district is economically segregated. However, information treatments that correct inaccurate beliefs do little to influence support for segregation-reducing policies, suggesting that correcting misconceptions alone is insufficient to change public opinions on school segregation.

In the second study, I conduct a second survey experiment of parents to explore preferences for school attributes, status, and racial/socioeconomic composition. This study helps to uncover which school attributes and dimensions of status are most consequential to parents as they make schooling decisions. I find that parents place the highest value on learning opportunities and overall school achievement compared to other attributes. Though parents prefer schools with more equity, highly equitable schools are less desirable to parents than schools with more status and learning opportunities. In addition, parents on average tend to avoid schools with higher populations of low-income and non-White students. Finally, I estimate the relative tradeoffs between these measures.