Study: Michigan School Choice Popular, But Motility Continues


Many Michigan students whose parents opt to move out of their neighborhood schools do so because of the state’s school of choice program – and a new study suggests that fewer than half of the children who are switch stay in that neighboring district.

Ron French of MLive Media Group writes that students who move between schools are students most likely to suffer academic problems because of instability.

This “revolving door” syndrome may add to the negative perceptions over the issue of school choice.

“There’s a bit of a revolving door (between schools),” said Joshua Cowen, associate professor at Michigan State University and lead author of a groundbreaking study of Michigan’s school of choice program. “That’s surprising.”

In 1994, Michigan’s school of choice policy began as part of the Prop A school finance change, which allowed school districts to accept students from other districts. Now, over 80% of school districts adhere to this policy, and approximately 100,000 kids are in classrooms in traditional school districts outside their communities. Charter schools count 136,000 students enrolled.

This policy gives parents the opportunity to put their children where they believe their kids can get the best education. Critics say, however, that district budgets have been affected because schools remain unsure of their enrollments until school begins in the fall. Per student funding in the state is at least $7,176 given to wherever a student attends school.

The study analyzed 3 million children between the school years 2005 -2006 and 2012-2013 and was conducted by two Michigan State researchers from MSU’s Education Policy Center and Vanessa Keesler, Deputy Superintendent for Accountability at the Michigan Department of Education. The children studied were students who moved from their home districts to other traditional public school districts, not charter schools.

The report found that low-income students are more likely to opt out of their home schools than their higher-income peers; that African-American students switch schools at a greater rate than other students; and that students with academic struggles are more likely to switch than students who are earning good grades.

“If families feel they’re being ill-served by their school, they look for better options,” Cowen said. “If you’re doing well, you don’t leave.”

However, these same at-risk students are also most likely to give up on their schools of choice. Of students who attended kindergarten in a school of choice district, 40% remained in that school by fifth grade. Overall, the length of stay at an out-of-home-district school is under three years.

“It’s not a program that kids make an academic career out of,” Cowen said. “It’s a pattern really similar to general mobility within an urban district. It’s the same kids who are bouncing around.”

Even though Michigan’s K-12 school enrollment declined during the school years of 2005-2006 to 2012-2013, participation in the schools of choice program nearly doubled, according to MSU Today. Most states, the study found, offer some type of school choice program, which is, in part, seen as a method of offering higher quality instruction to poor, disadvantaged students.

Cowen noted that the study does not include an estimation of the effect the chosen schools have on student achievement, nor does it draw any conclusions about potential racial segregation in school districts. He says that these areas will be explored in future research.