Using Unified School Enrollment Systems to Improve Access to Effective Schools and for Research and Evaluation

How do unified enrollment school assignment systems affect school access? How can data generated by these systems be used for planning and evaluation?

Unified enrollment systems give families access to all of the schools in a given area through a common application, and a growing number of urban school districts use these systems to assign children to schools. The extent to which these systems yield improvements in student welfare is related to factors that influence student demand. Since seats at desirable schools are typically scarce, if applicants have similar preferences, then these systems do not positively influence student welfare. On the other hand, if preferences are more diverse, then unified enrollment systems may give way to allocative efficiencies by utilizing applicant choices effectively. Pathak will use flexible demand models to characterize parents’ school preference. The second phase of the project develops and uses quasi-experimental techniques to construct instrumental variable estimates of school effects. The settings will include high schools in New York City and K–12 schools in Boston.