Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow?
Parental Satisfaction over Time
IN THE PREVIOUS CHAPTER, we used our survey data to identify differences in parental satisfaction with charter schools compared to the satisfaction experienced by parents' counterparts in traditional public schools. Using a variety of methods, we found that charter parents are more satisfied with their schools on many important dimensions, even after controlling for bias caused by self-selection and “rose-colored glasses.” A centerpiece of our approach was a study that used matched pairs of charter and DCPS parents to examine the treatment effect of charter enrollment and test for the sensitivity of the results to confounding unobserved covariates. This method suggests that there is a reasonably strong effect of enrollment in charter schools, but in our desire to minimize the risk of bias and to minimize the assumptions of the functional form placed on the model, we used only a fraction of our data, studying only parents with children newly enrolled in schools over the course of a single school year. In this chapter, we switch to a different modeling approach in an attempt to better understand what happens to levels of parental satisfaction in both charters and traditional public schools as the parents and their children experience the schools over several years. But first, we highlight the importance of this temporal analysis.
People form judgments about the quality and usefulness of most goods and services as they use them over time. Everyone loves a new car. But what happens as time passes? Does the car hold up, or do the wheels fall off after thirty thousand miles? Often it is only over time that we discover whether love at first sight endures or whether we bought the proverbial pig in a poke.
In some cases, this dimension is so important to our judgment of the quality of a good that economists define some items as “experience goods.”1 Experience goods present problems to consumers because their quality, and hence their value, cannot be precisely determined by buyers at the time of purchase. In addition, when it comes to experience goods, there is a pronounced information asymmetry between producers and consumers—producers have more knowledge of the real value of the good and have no incentive to reveal that quality to the consumer. This asym-