Barrows, Samuel, Michael Henderson, Paul E. Peterson, and Martin R. West. "Relative Performance Information and Perceptions of Public Service Quality: Evidence From American School Districts." Journal of Public Administration Research and Theor (April 2016).


The publication of information about public service performance has expanded dramatically in recent decades. Multiple experiments have shown that relative performance information influences citizens’ evaluations of local services. It is unclear whether this information leads citizens to update their beliefs or temporarily employ different criteria, however, and we do not know if the influence of performance information will extend to contexts in which citizens have access to other information sources. We examine these questions using two experiments within nationally representative surveys. In the first, we find that providing respondents with information about the performance of their local schools relative to schools in the state, the nation, and other developed countries depresses average evaluations of local school quality. The second experiment shows that relative performance information depresses average evaluations in part by priming respondents to consider how the academic performance of their communities’ schools compares to others, but also by leading some respondents with erroneous prior beliefs about school performance to update their beliefs.