It’s not enough for parents to have access to data on school quality; they need an explicit reason to start comparing schools to make use of that information,.
New school options, be they from a move, a charter school opening, or the No Child Left Behind Act’s public school transfer program, spurred parent activity on the school ratings website,, the study found. Michael Lovenheim, an associate professor of policy analysis at Cornell University, and Patrick Walsh, an associate professor of economics at St. Michael’s College in Vermont, tracked more than 102 million keyword searches on the site.
They were able to match searches to school districts in 39 states and track the ebb and flow of searching activity in each community from 2010 to 2013.
Monthly activity on the site rose significantly during that time, from fewer than 1,000 searches in January 2010 to more than 600,000 in October 2013. Lovenheim and Walsh then compared local search activity with the national averages during that time, while also taking into account the percentage of new families with school-age children who moved to the communities.
Those years were at the tail end of the No Child Left Behind law, when some states were still implementing the law’s requirement that poor-performing schools allow their students to transfer to higher-achieving schools—but some states received waivers from those requirements.
The researchers found that when the number of low-performing schools that had to offer transfers rose by 10 percentage points in an area, parent-search activity on GreatSchools jumped by 7.2 percent. And by contrast, if a state later secured a waiver from NCLB’s transfer requirements, school searches in communities that previously had public school choice fell by 4 percent out of every 10 percentage-point increase it had previously gained.
The researchers also found that when a charter school opened in an area, searches rose by 5.3 percent.
The authors write that their findings imply that “for many families, the availability of school quality information alone is not sufficient to lead them to become better-informed about school options. Parents must also have an incentive to seek and use this information.”
A version of this article appeared in the November 15, 2017 edition of Education Week as Study: Do Parents Need a Reason to Go School Shopping?