For one of my classes this past week, I read some research articles on school vouchers and school choice. Within this framework, there was a discussion about the use of information. Here it was using information to decide where to send a child to school. This goes beyond choosing to move into a good school district, because not everyone has the power to do that. Voucher programs are one way that parents who cannot live near a school that they like can still have some options.
When voucher programs are available the decision making model assumes that parents will use information about the schools in the program to choose one that meets their personal values and educational expectations or preferences. For example, a parent may be interested in student teacher ratio, the size of a class, the size of a school, the cost (tuition not covered by the voucher), the location, the academic history, the percent of students who graduate, the level of education of the teachers.. and so on and so forth. A parent may even prioritize their list of preferences. In addition, what a parent feels is a quality of a good school, say student teacher ratio, is not likely to change from day to day or within present company, or when they are feeling blue. It is a time consistent and rational preference or value.
The research on school vouchers tends to show that just having a choice increases a parent's satisfaction with their child's school. Choice is important. Research also shows that children of motivated parents do better (regardless of school or choice). But important for me, research also shows that a lot of the information needed to make a decision is not available, or is not readily available. This leaves less assertive, familiar or formidable parents unable to go about getting the information. Heck, they might not even know what makes a school a good school because their educational experience was itself limited. They lack criteria to judge or select/
In reading all of this, my mind went constantly to decision making at the point sale and food. (I have no children, the school voucher issue is not my battle!). Many people do not know what information is the most important (calories, sugar, fat, sodium, etc) needed to make a decision nor where to find that information. People who have determined that low calorie, healthier foods are their preference, may still change their mind according to circumstance. Food decisions are quite often irrational and not time consistent.
This is more reason for menu labeling that is simple and in your face. Restaurant and similar establishments (ones that sell FOOD) should provide calorie info, (and I think sat fat and sugar info), put those numbers in a circle that is green, yellow or red and remind people that what they eat today can effect their health tomorrow.