Shopping for Schools on the
Internet Using DCSchoolSearch.com
SOCIAL SCIENTISTS HAVE CONSIDERABLE experience with telephone surveys—and as noted earlier, we use survey data in this book. However, the revolution in information technology that blossomed in the mid- to late1990s created many new tools for research, and here we use such technology as another window into how parents make decisions about schools. Specifically, we use data gathered from a school-choice web site we constructed to help further our understanding of how parents go about choosing schools. In this chapter, we describe that website. In the next section of the book, we explore some of the data generated by the site to further illuminate parental information search patterns.
With the support of the National Science Foundation and the Smith Richardson Foundation, we worked with two D.C.-based not-for-profit organizations focused on school policy, the 21st Century Schools Fund and Friends of Choice in Urban School (FOCUS), to create DCSchoolSearch .com, an Internet-based site that contained information about every traditional and public charter school in Washington, D.C.
The creation and design of DCSchoolSearch.com was driven by two simple beliefs. First, we believed that as school choice proliferates, parents need more and better information about schools. Second, we believed that modern information technologies have the potential to make information about schools cheap and accessible. The marriage of these two ideas—that the need for information was increasing at the same time that technology was reducing the cost of providing it—drove us to create DCSchoolSearch.com.
However, while the cost of disseminating information has been reduced by modern information technologies, we discovered that the cost of gath- ering that information was still high. In particular, we incurred high costs because we were dependent on the cooperation of people, both DCPS officials and charter-school officials, who needed to give us the information we wanted to provide to parents. Despite the fact that data