Christopher Campos is a Postdoctoral Research Associate in the Section and will join the University of Chicago's Booth School of Business as an Assistant Professor in 2022.
Christopher Campos will be presenting in person. Viewers may also attend via Zoom.
This paper evaluates the Zones of Choice (ZOC) program in Los Angeles, a school choice initiative that created small high school markets in some neighborhoods but left traditional attendance zone boundaries in place throughout the rest of the district. We study the impacts of the ZOC program on student achievement and college enrollment using a matched difference-in-differences design that compares changes in outcomes for ZOC schools and demographically similar non-ZOC schools. Our findings reveal that the ZOC program boosted student outcomes markedly, closing achievement and college enrollment gaps between ZOC neighborhoods and the rest of the district. These gains are explained by general improvements in school effectiveness rather than changes in student match quality, and school-specific gains are concentrated among the lowest-performing schools. We interpret these findings through the lens of a model of school demand in which schools exert costly effort to improve quality. The model allows us to measure the increase in competition facing each ZOC school based on household preferences and the spatial distribution of schools. We demonstrate that the effects of ZOC were larger for schools exposed to more competition, supporting the notion that competition is a key channel driving the impacts of ZOC. Demand estimates derived from rank-ordered preference lists suggest families place substantial weight on schools' academic quality, providing schools competitive incentives to improve their effectiveness. An analysis using randomized admission lotteries shows that the treatment effects of admission to preferred schools declined after the introduction of ZOC, a pattern that is explained by the relative improvements of less-preferred schools. Our findings demonstrate the potential for public school choice to improve student outcomes while also underscoring the importance of studying market-level impacts when evaluating school choice programs.