He Whakaaro: Who exercises school choice? An analysis of out-of-zone-students

Publication Details

Most families in Aotearoa New Zealand have the choice of which school to attend, and many opt to attend schools other than their nearest school. This paper uses linked administrative data from Statistics NZ’s Integrated Data Infrastructure (IDI) to examine the characteristics of students and families who actually make this choice. This analysis provides evidence on the extent to which schools with zones attract the most advantaged students from their surrounding out-of-zone areas – a practice known as ‘cream-skimming’.

Author(s): Andrew Webber, Evidence, Data and Knowledge, Ministry of Education.

Date Published: March 2020

Key Findings

The report finds:

  • Students who attend out-of-zone schools are substantially more advantaged than their peers in the same neighbourhoods who attend the local in-zone school, on most dimensions we examine.
  • In particular, students who attend out-of-zone schools have parents who earn about 8-17 percent more, and are 1.2-1.7 times more likely to have Bachelor degrees.
  • Combined with evidence that school zones tend to be set up in a way that incorporate high SES areas and avoid low SES areas, this is strong evidence that the current combination of school choice and zones enables cream-skimming.
  • Out-of-zone students are substantially less advantaged than their in-zone peers in the schools they go into.
  • The effect of school choice appears to be to concentrate disadvantage in the schools that students are opting out of, but potentially increase socio-economic diversity in the schools that students are opting into.

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