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The assignment of children to public schools: a study of three key factors

12nd National Competition for Economic Research Grants

Public economics

Senior Researcher : Jorge Alcalde Unzu

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Research Centre or Institution : Universidad Pública de Navarra.


Access to quality public education is vital to guarantee the equality of opportunities of all the individuals in a society. It is therefore very important to construct a system for the assignment of children to public schools which guarantees a good end result in terms of efficacy and equity. In recent years, economic literature has focussed on studying different mechanisms for this task. The decision regarding the ideal mechanism to be implemented remains a subject of debate, among both economists and political and social agents. In this project, we propose to study three factors which, according to certain preliminary studies in the literature, may be key in determining the suitability of the different mechanisms.

One of these factors which we will study will be the importance of the social networks that are created among parents to find out about the best strategy to follow with regard to the assignment mechanism. The models studied by the literature do not consider these interactions and therefore their conclusions may not be valid, as there is empirical evidence that these networks exist and that the parents base their strategy, in part, on the advice from other parents regarding the results of the assignment mechanism in previous years. Our study aims to test the importance of this factor and, as a result, propose efficient, fair assignment mechanisms which take this aspect into account.

Our work also aims to study the importance of the multicultural preferences of individuals in the end result of the different assignment mechanisms proposed. The models proposed by the literature consider that the parents do not place any importance on the rest of the students in each school, but rather only the school as an institution (educational model, teachers, etc.). However, there is empirical evidence which shows that, when determining their preferences, many parents do consider the nationality, social class, etc. of the other students that attend each school. Our project aims to test the importance of this aspect in the final result of each mechanism in terms of inequality and segregation.

Very closely related to the previous point, there is a body of literature, which is still small but nonetheless important, on mechanisms which assign students from disadvantaged groups a greater likelihood of being able to attend their preferred schools. As a result, the well-being of these students improves (compared to classical mechanisms), but there is little evidence of any possible effects these measures have on the rest of the students (and the possible size of those effects). Our aim will be to contribute to this growing literature by analysing mechanisms which seek to limit the damage caused to the rest of the students while maintaining the positive discrimination for students from disadvantaged groups.

In summary, our objective is to contribute arguments, based on scientific reasoning, to the existing social and political debate about the implementation of an optimum mechanism for the assignment of children to public schools.

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