Parents With Choices Seek More Information

(Guest Post by Jason Bedrick)

We’ve all heard the argument that parents can’t be trusted with educational choice because they don’t have enough information. But as my new EdChoice colleague Mike McShane explains, it’s all a matter of incentives:

[P]arents don’t have a strong incentive to look for information about school options if they don’t have the ability to take advantage of the information. If they don’t have choices, why search for information?

This creates a terrible chicken-and-egg problem. We shouldn’t give parents choices because they don’t have enough information to make good decisions, but they don’t have enough information because we haven’t given them choices!

Fortunately, new research by Michael F. Lovenheim and Patrick Walsh sheds light on how parents seek out and consume relevant information when given the incentive to do so (i.e., the ability to choose). As McShane explains:

Lovenheim and Walsh’s paper offers a path forward. They find that parents respond to expansions of school choice options by seeking out new information. The researchers were able to link more than 100 million (yes, you read that right) individual searches on the school information website GreatSchools to geographic areas that either had school choice expanded or restricted during the almost three years of their study to see how parents respond to changes in the options available to them.

They found that expansions of school choice drove increases in searches for school information. They also found that restrictions of school choice drove decreases in searches for school information.

As it turns out, parents, whose time is valuable, don’t waste their time learning about school options that they can’t take advantage of. But, when they have options made available to them, they work to find out which one is best for their child.

For more on the implications of this research — and what choice proponents can do to help parents get access to relevant information, read the rest of McShane’s blog post here.


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