School choice in Chile: Is it class or the classroom?



Skeptics of school choice are concerned that parents, especially low-income ones, will not choose schools based on sound academic reasoning. Many fear that, given choice, parents will sort themselves into different schools along class lines. How-ever, most surveys find that parents of all socioeconomic groups cite academic aspects as important when choosing a school. Moreover, almost no parents refer to the social composition of the student body. Many advocates of choice hold up these results as proof that choice will produce desirable outcomes. However, these results may not be reliable because they may simply be verbal responses to survey items rather than indicators of actual behavior.

In this research, we report on the search behavior of parents in the Metropolitan Region of Santiago, Chile, examining how they construct their school choice sets and comparing this to what they say they are seeking in choosing schools. The data indicate that parental decisions are influenced by demographics. Based on this evidence, we argue that unfettered choice may reduce the pressure on schools to improve their performance and could potentially increase stratification. © 2006 by the Association for Public Policy Analysis and Management