The Power of Policy Defaults: A Behavioral Economics View of Public School Assignment Policies & Educational Equity
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The school assignment process plays a central role in shaping a student’s educational experience, which subsequently influences his or her future opportunities. Thus, school assignment policies have an impact on social equity. Over the past seventy years, public school district assignment policies have undergone significant change as a result of evolving national attitudes towards segregation, legal changes stemming from Supreme Court rulings, and the growing popularity of parental choice. Though school assignment policies are constantly evolving, some consideration of area of residence has always played a role in the process. Given the equity implications of school assignments, it is important to recognize that the design of an assignment policy plays a critical role in determining the pattern of outcomes generated. My goal in this thesis is to examine the structure of school assignment policies using the lens of behavioral economics. Behavioral economics highlights the importance of the system designated outcome, commonly known as the “default” option, in complex decision making environments. Specifically, I examine the type of default school assignment during three distinct assignment policy years within the Charlotte-Mecklenburg School District. I hypothesize that as the default school assignment becomes more dependent on residential proximity, that is, the neighborhood school 1) the demographic similarities between schools and their surrounding neighborhoods will increase at the district-level with 2) the greatest increases in the most segregated neighborhoods, and 3) that levels of racial imbalance across district schools and racial isolation within schools will increase. A test of these hypotheses using school-level racial data from the second largest school district in North Carolina, Charlotte-Mecklenburg , strongly supports my theoretical predictions.
CitationMahesh, Pavithra (2012). The Power of Policy Defaults: A Behavioral Economics View of Public School Assignment Policies & Educational Equity. Master's thesis, Duke University. Retrieved from https://hdl.handle.net/10161/5737.
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