kitchen table math, the sequel: It's the peers, stupid

Monday, December 1, 2014

It's the peers, stupid

I remember being struck, years ago, by Laurence Steinberg's idea that what parents in expensive school districts are really buying isn't good schools but good peers.

Made sense.

From a new NBER paper:
When effort is observable to peers, students may act to avoid social penalties by conforming to prevailing norms. To test for such behavior, we conducted an experiment in which 11th grade students were offered complimentary access to an online SAT preparatory course. Signup sheets differed randomly across students (within classrooms) only in the extent to which they emphasized that the decision to enroll would be kept private from classmates.


When offered the course in a non-honors class, these students were 25 percentage points less likely to sign up if the decision was public rather than private. But if they were offered the course in one of their honors classes, they were 25 percentage points more likely to sign up when the decision was public. Thus, students are highly responsive to who their peers are and what the prevailing norm is when they make decisions.

How Does Peer Pressure Affect Educational Investments?
Leonardo Bursztyn, Robert Jensen
NBER Working Paper No. 20714
Issued in November 2014


Auntie Ann said...

That's my feeling out here in the private-school world of Los Angeles. You are not so much choosing your kids' school, as choosing their friends. Parents are looking for places where the kids and their families value education.

lgm said...

Unfortunately there is an attitude of 'why work that hard' that will come out if a child is in a diverse class instead of among intellectual peers. No one wants to be seen as the 'nerd', or 'acting white'...however its labeled by the age-mates who don't qualify academically and don't value their education.

TerriW said...

This reminds me of a conversation I had not too long ago with woman at church -- she is the wife of a local high school principal. I had mentioned that although we homeschool, we specifically chose a home to buy in a top ten in the state school district.

She mentioned that we shouldn't be too proud of our school district's rank, because it was all due to demographics, whereas the rank of her husband's school shows more value-add.

I felt that she was missing part of the point. We knew very well what we were purchasing by moving into that school district, and that was: neighbors who were willing to spend the money to get into a good school district, i.e., people who valued education very highly.