But a discussion on Greg Mankiw's blog caught my attention. That's because a couple of the folks suggested that parents don't really have the knowledge to make decisions about the quality of schools.
Between 2002-2004 I was actively involved in the fight to get school vouchers for families in DC. I often heard the argument that parents don't know how to choose between good and bad schools and that, anyway, parents had enough choices with the school system's "out-of-boundary" options and charters (that had also been opposed).
Without getting too deep into the out-of-boundary program, I'll point out that Woodrow Wilson HS, considered one of the best schools in the city, received 520 applications from parents out of the school's zone. That is even though it had ZERO available spaces for students to transfer to the school and parents KNEW there would be few spaces available. Deal Junior High, a feeder school for Wilson, had 532 applications, but only ten openings.
At the same time, D.C. parents shunned the low achieving schools. Anacostia Senior High School had 80 spaces available, but only seven applicants. Ballou SHS had 220 available spaces, but only three applicants. In 2002, fewer than 800 of the 7,000 children who applied for out-of-boundary spots were granted permission, mainly because many of the available slots are in low-performing schools (the same problem hindering NCLB). From my on-the-ground conversations with parents, visits to schools, going door-to-door in neighborhoods, based on community meetings I attended and speeches I gave, parents were quite aware of the level of violence and the level of achievement in the schools.
The main point is, based on what I wrote above: intellectuals, experts, and politicians greatly underestimate the knowledge and information that parents have about schools.
Families at a Washington Scholarship Fund orientation meeting, April 2004
Families at a Washington Scholarship Fund school fair, June 2004
See also Jeffrey Alan Miron, Edspresso, Carnival of Education!, The Voice for School Choice, Education Week,