The paper examines how it is that conscientious parents make school choices. She uses a sample set that is deliberately constructed in a high-choice city, and the subjects all are "choosers," i.e. people relatively actively involved with their kids' education.
"All Choices Created Equal? : How Good Parents Select “Failing” Schools" Courtney A. Bell, University of Connecticut (October 2005) (Under Review.)
Recent reports suggest that the vast majority (up to 97%) of parents with children in “failing” schools choose to leave their children in those schools, even when it is their legal right to do otherwise. These reports -- and the puzzling behavior they describe -- draw attention to researchers’ limited ability to explain parents’ actions. This study addresses this limitation by investigating the “black box” of choice -- the processes parents use to choose. Based on interviews with 48 urban parents during the eight months preceding the selection of a middle or high school, the study finds that differences in the choice process did not explain why parents chose failing schools. Instead, differences in choice sets explain, in part, why parents choose the schools they do. Using social networks, customary attendance patterns, and their understanding of their child’s academic achievement, parents constructed choice sets that varied systematically by social-class background. The differences between parents’ choice sets were statistically significant and provide insight into why it makes sense that well-intentioned parents choose failing schools. The study’s findings elaborate our understanding of the choice process and, in so doing, raise concerns about the ability of current choice policies to deliver the equity outcomes reformers suggest.
It was very interesting. Clearly one huge advantage of having a diverse community where people interact across their social class/income level readily, is that increasing the breadth of one's network increases the likelihood that the choice sets that the parents come up with will actually be a set that is in some way objectively optimized for school selection for the student.
It also strikes me that we need an opposite term from "sunk cost." Sunk cost is an accounting term for throwing good money after bad (a child doing poorly in school shouldn't be sent to a private school because then they'd do poorly AND it would cost money).
The opposite term would refer to underinvestment: needing to invest more before drawing conclusions on success or failure (if the child went to a school highly targeting his particular learning needs, maybe he would begin to succeed, and once having had the experience of success, would be more successful in any environment).