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Study Says District of Columbia Parents Picked Schools Based on Race, Distance

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Parents in the District of Columbia's school system made decisions about where to send their children to school based on how the schools' racial makeup matched their own children, along with distance and academic performance, a new study shows.

Researchers analyzed data from 22,000 applicants in the 2014 school lottery in Washington, D.C., for 200 traditional public and charter schools for the study by the Mathematica Policy Research.

The paper revealed similar findings as other studies—academic performance and distance are major factors in school decisions. But the researchers went deeper to find to what extent the racial makeup of the school and distance played as factors.

Middle school parents were willing to travel a half-mile farther to go to a school if 50 percent of students are the same race as their children. But they were willing to drive even farther to avoid having their children be in a small minority—say a school where 10 versus 20 percent of the students are in the same group.

Families also were willing to send middle schoolers about seven miles farther away to attend a school with the highest test scores and accountability ratings. A chart about distance choices can be seen on this page.

Researchers intend the study to help schools understand parents' motivations in order to make rules and policies about school choice.

"We have this process that we are using to assign parents to schools, but it's also a process for learning what parents value when they choose a school," said Steven Glazerman, a co-author of the paper, in a July 11 story in the Washington Post. "To make better decisions about how we allocate resources, we need to be using those data wisely. I see this study as a way to use those data to find out better what parents want, how they trade off attributes of schools and then how that information can be used to predict consequences of different policy choices."

The study was funded by the Walton Family Foundation. (The Walton Foundation provides financial support for Education Week's coverage of school choice and parent empowerment. Education Week retains sole editorial control over the content of this coverage.)

Contact Sarah Tully at [email protected].

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