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The Illusion of School Choice: Empirical Evidence from Barcelona

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  • Calsamiglia, Caterina

    (IPEG)

  • Güell, Maia

    (University of Edinburgh)

Abstract

School choice aims to improve (1) the matching between children and schools and (2) students' educational outcomes. Yet, the concern is that disadvantaged families are less able to exercise choice, which raises (3) equity concerns. The Boston mechanism (BM) is a procedure that is widely used around the world to resolve overdemands for particular schools by defining a set of priority points based on neighborhood and socioeconomic characteristics. The mechanism design literature has shown that under the BM, parents may not have incentives to provide their true preferences, thereby establishing a trade-off between preferences and perceived safety. However, the set of possible Nash equilibria arising from the BM is large and has varying properties, and what will actually happen is an empirical question. We exploit an unexpected change in the definition of neighborhood in Barcelona, which provides an exogenous change in the set of schools perceived as safe and allows us to separate housing and schooling decisions to assess the importance of this trade-off in the data. We find that safety carries a large weight in family choice. The huge majority of parents opt for schools for which they have the highest priority – the neighborhood schools – excluding other preferred schools. Similar to the previous literature, we also find that some parents seem naive, but using school registry data, we find that a significant fraction of them have the outside option of private schools, which allows them to take higher risks to access the best public schools. At the other extreme, some of the naive are not matched to any of the schools they applied for. Our results suggest that when allowing school choice under the BM with priorities: (1) the gains in terms of matching seem limited, because the equilibrium allocation is not very different from a neighborhood-based assignment, (2) estimating the effect of choice on outcomes by implementing such a mechanism may lead to a lower bound on the potential effects of having choice, and (3) important inequalities emerge beyond parents' naivete found in the literature.

Suggested Citation

  • Calsamiglia, Caterina & Güell, Maia, 2014. "The Illusion of School Choice: Empirical Evidence from Barcelona," IZA Discussion Papers 8202, Institute of Labor Economics (IZA).
  • Handle: RePEc:iza:izadps:dp8202
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    Cited by:

    1. Basteck, Christian & Klaus, Bettina & Kübler, Dorothea, 2021. "How lotteries in school choice help to level the playing field," Games and Economic Behavior, Elsevier, vol. 129(C), pages 198-237.
    2. Claudia Herresthal, 2015. "Inferring School Quality from Rankings: The Impact of School Choice," Economics Series Working Papers 747, University of Oxford, Department of Economics.
    3. André Veski & Péter Biró & Kaire Põder & Triin Lauri, 2017. "Efficiency and fair access in Kindergarten allocation policy design," The Journal of Mechanism and Institution Design, Society for the Promotion of Mechanism and Institution Design, University of York, vol. 2(1), pages 57-104, December.
    4. Basteck, Christian & Mantovani, Marco, 2018. "Cognitive ability and games of school choice," Games and Economic Behavior, Elsevier, vol. 109(C), pages 156-183.
    5. Caterina Calsamiglia & Chao Fu & Maia Güell, 2014. "Structural Estimation of a Model of School Choices: the Boston Mechanism vs. Its Alternatives," Working Papers 2014-21, FEDEA.
    6. Ciccone, Antonio & Garcia-Fontes, Walter, 2014. "Gender Peer Effects in School, a Birth Cohort Approach," Working Papers 14-19, University of Mannheim, Department of Economics.
    7. Adam J. Kapor & Christopher A. Neilson & Seth D. Zimmerman, 2020. "Heterogeneous Beliefs and School Choice Mechanisms," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 110(5), pages 1274-1315, May.
    8. David Cantala & Juan Sebastián Pereyra, 2017. "Priority-driven behaviors under the Boston mechanism," Review of Economic Design, Springer;Society for Economic Design, vol. 21(1), pages 49-63, March.
    9. Estelle Cantillon, 2017. "Broadening the market design approach to school choice," Oxford Review of Economic Policy, Oxford University Press, vol. 33(4), pages 613-634.
    10. Caterina Calsamiglia & Annalisa Loviglio, 2017. "Grading on a Curve: When Having Good Peers is not Good," Working Papers wp2018_1704, CEMFI.
    11. Farré, Lídia & Ortega, Francesc & Tanaka, Ryuichi, 2015. "Immigration and School Choices in the Midst of the Great Recession," IZA Discussion Papers 9234, Institute of Labor Economics (IZA).
    12. Calsamiglia, Caterina & Loviglio, Annalisa, 2019. "Grading on a curve: When having good peers is not good," Economics of Education Review, Elsevier, vol. 73(C).
    13. Nikhil Agarwal & Paulo Somaini, 2018. "Demand Analysis Using Strategic Reports: An Application to a School Choice Mechanism," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 86(2), pages 391-444, March.
    14. Nienke Ruijs & Hessel Oosterbeek, 2019. "School Choice in Amsterdam: Which Schools are Chosen When School Choice is Free?," Education Finance and Policy, MIT Press, vol. 14(1), pages 1-30, Winter.
    15. Caterina Calsamiglia & Annalisa Loviglio, 2020. "Maturity and school outcomes in an inflexible system: evidence from Catalonia," SERIEs: Journal of the Spanish Economic Association, Springer;Spanish Economic Association, vol. 11(1), pages 1-49, March.
    16. Christopher Avery & Parag A. Pathak, 2015. "The Distributional Consequences of Public School Choice," NBER Working Papers 21525, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    17. Caterina Calsamiglia & Francisco Martinez-Mora & Antonio Miralles, 2017. "Sorting in public school districts under the Boston Mechanism," Working Papers 949, Barcelona School of Economics.
    18. Herresthal, C., 2017. "Performance-Based Rankings and School Quality," Cambridge Working Papers in Economics 1754, Faculty of Economics, University of Cambridge.
    19. Doğan, Battal & Klaus, Bettina, 2018. "Object allocation via immediate-acceptance: Characterizations and an affirmative action application," Journal of Mathematical Economics, Elsevier, vol. 79(C), pages 140-156.
    20. Farre, Lidia & Ortega, Francesc & Tanaka, Ryuichi, 2018. "Immigration and the public–private school choice," Labour Economics, Elsevier, vol. 51(C), pages 184-201.
    21. Umut Dur & Robert G. Hammond & Thayer Morrill, 2018. "Identifying the Harm of Manipulable School-Choice Mechanisms," American Economic Journal: Economic Policy, American Economic Association, vol. 10(1), pages 187-213, February.
    22. López-Torres, Laura & Nicolini, Rosella & Prior, Diego, 2017. "Does strategic interaction affect demand for school places? A conditional efficiency approach," Regional Science and Urban Economics, Elsevier, vol. 65(C), pages 89-103.
    23. Kesten, Onur & Kurino, Morimitsu, 2019. "Strategy-proof improvements upon deferred acceptance: A maximal domain for possibility," Games and Economic Behavior, Elsevier, vol. 117(C), pages 120-143.
    24. Caterina Calsamiglia & Francisco Martínez-Mora & Antonio Miralles, 2015. "School Choice Mechanisms, Peer Effects and Sorting," Discussion Papers in Economics 15/01, Division of Economics, School of Business, University of Leicester.

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    More about this item

    Keywords

    Boston mechanism; school choice; priorities;
    All these keywords.

    JEL classification:

    • C78 - Mathematical and Quantitative Methods - - Game Theory and Bargaining Theory - - - Bargaining Theory; Matching Theory
    • D63 - Microeconomics - - Welfare Economics - - - Equity, Justice, Inequality, and Other Normative Criteria and Measurement
    • I24 - Health, Education, and Welfare - - Education - - - Education and Inequality

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