School choice — the elite illusion

6 March, 2016 at 11:24 | Posted in Education & School | Leave a comment

The results reported here suggest that an exam school education produces only scattered gains for applicants, even among students with baseline scores close to or above the mean in the target school. Because the exam school experience is associated with sharp increases in peer achievement, these results weigh against the importance of peer effects in the education production function …

school_choiceOf course, test scores and peer effects are only part of the exam school story. It may be that preparation for exam school entrance is itself worth-while … The many clubs and activities found at some exam schools may expose students to ideas and concepts not easily captured by achievement tests or our post-secondary outcomes. It is also possible that exam school graduates earn higher wages, a question we plan to explore in future work. Still, the estimates reported here suggest that any labor market gains are likely to come through channels other than peer composition and increased cognitive achievement …

Our results are also relevant to the economic debate around school quality and school choice … As with the jump in house prices at school district boundaries, heavy rates of exam school oversubscription suggest that parents believe peer composition matters a great deal for their children’s welfare. The fact that we find little support for causal peer effects suggests that parents either mistakenly equate attractive peers with high value added, or that they value exam schools for reasons other than their impact on learning. Both of these scenarios reduce the likelihood that school choice in and of itself has strong salutary demand-side effects in education production.

A. Abdulkadiroglu, J. D. Angrist, and P. A. Pathak

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