Research / BFI Working PaperJul 13, 2023

The Impact of Public School Choice: Evidence from Los Angeles’ Zones of Choice

Christopher Campos, Caitlin Kearns

Does a school district that expands school choice provide better outcomes for students than a neighborhood-based assignment system? This paper studies the Zones of Choice program, a school choice initiative that created small high school markets in some neighborhoods but left attendance-zone boundaries in place throughout the rest of the district. We study market-level impacts of choice on student achievement and college enrollment using a differences-in-differences design. Student outcomes in ZOC markets increased markedly, narrowing achievement and college enrollment gaps between ZOC neighborhoods and the rest of the district. The effects of ZOC are larger for schools exposed to more competition, supporting the notion that competition is a key channel. Demand estimates suggest families place substantial weight on schools’ academic quality, providing schools with competition-induced incentives to improve their effectiveness. The evidence demonstrates that public school choice programs have the potential to improve school quality and reduce neighborhood-based disparities in educational opportunity.

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