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Bruno: Let's Improve the Supply of Good Schools

71575328_808dddd4e7I've already argued that our teacher quality problems are probably not caused by inadequate demand for excellent teachers, but is there inadequate demand for high quality schools?  

Bill Jackson thinks so and argues that if given better information and different incentives, parents will demand - and therefore obtain - better schools for their kids.

Maybe, maybe not.

It's certainly true that less-privileged families are often not in a position to provide quality educational opportunities for their kids. It's less obvious to me, however, that even the poorest families are really as ignorant about - or indifferent to - school quality as Jackson suggests.

How, on Jackson's account, should we interpret the fact that school closings are extremely unpopular even when the closure is publicly justified by the school's low quality? I can think of 3 possibilities, none of which really demonstrate a major demand-side problem.

  1. Parents don't care enough about school quality. Parents may consider factors besides school "quality" - like convenience or tradition - when evaluating schools, it's implausible that they don't still value quality highly and it is completely inconsistent with my personal experience.
  2. Parents have poor information about school quality. Maybe, but what's the evidence for this? These days there is an enormous amount of school performance data available that high-scoring schools are eager to brag about and that school closure advocates are happy to bring up. And if the point is just that school quality data are very difficult to interpret, so much the worse for school quality data. If the data are that unclear, that hardly suggests we should be using it for more and higher-stakes decisions.
  3. Parents and reformers have different conceptions of school quality. This is related to interpretation #1. Parents may simply not be evaluating their school options according to the criteria reformers prefer.  I find this interpretation to be the most plausible, but I think it suggests we have a problem of supply rather than demand. Parental school criteria are probably either reasonable (e.g., school location) or likely to be extremely difficult to re-engineer (e.g., family or religious tradition). That, in turn, might suggest that we're better off trying to improve the supply of quality schools directly rather than trying to find ways of getting parents to demand them.

None of this is to say that there aren't many potential gains to educating parents and helping them make informed decisions for their children, just that there are limits to what parental demand is likely to accomplish. If we can define the academic improvements we'd like schools to make, why not just try to achieve those changes directly and for all students? And if we can't define those improvements clearly, can we really expect to achieve them by tweaking parental demand? - PB (@MrPABruno) (image source)


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"Parents and reformers have different conceptions of school quality. "


Low income parents care overwhelmingly about safety. After that, they want to see the school hire local people--preferably of color.

If their kid is engaged in school and not cutting, then that's gravy.

If their local school is hitting these targets, the parents are going to be furious if it's closed.

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