Leveling the Playing Field for High School Choice

Our study, “Leveling the Playing Field for High School Choice: Results from a Field Experiment of Informational Interventions” was recently released as a National Bureau of Economic Research working paper. The paper reports the results of a field experiment in 165 high-poverty New York City middle schools designed to help students navigate a complex high school choice process and access higher-performing schools. This paper and related publications can be found on our project website.

A summary follows:

  • Every 8th grade student in NYC must submit an application of their high school choices to be assigned to a high school. Navigating this process is a complex task with over 750 programs in more than 440 high schools. To better understand how information can help students access higher-performing high schools, we conducted a randomized experiment in 165 high-poverty NYC middle schools. Students in the experimental groups received a custom list of 30 high schools with a graduation rate of 70% or higher and within 45 minutes by public transportation from the middle school. Three main findings emerged from our research:
  1. Students who received our custom lists used them when making choices. They were more likely to apply to our specific high school recommendations than students who did not receive our lists.
  2. Students who received our custom lists were more likely to receive their first choice high school and were less likely to match to a high school with a graduation rate below 70%. Students applied to schools at which they had higher odds of admission, and they avoided lower-performing schools on their applications.
  3. Students from all backgrounds used our custom lists to make choices. However, lower-income and lower-achieving students were no more likely to use them than comparatively advantaged students in the same schools. One exception to this pattern is students in non-English speaking households, who were much less likely to match to a low-performing school.
  • Taken together, our findings demonstrate that providing simplified and customized information to middle school students can increase the quality of schools to which they match. At the same time, broad-based informational interventions will not necessarily reduce inequality, since both disadvantaged and advantaged students respond to and benefit from them.