Study Shows School Choice Improves College Achievement Gap

A study funded by the Department of Education found that school choice programs have a positive impact on student achievement in college, the Daily Caller reports.

On Monday, the National Bureau of Economic Research released a working paper written by Harvard, Dartmouth and Brown University researchers, providing “the first evidence of the impact of school choice on the college achievement gap.”

The target of the study was the Charlotte-Mecklenburg School District in North Carolina. Superficially, the researchers looked at the effect of the district’s school choice program on the number of students from the district who enrolled and completed college.

The CMS school choice program went into effect in 2002. The program allowed any student in the district to pick up to three schools in the district, in addition to their home institution. A lottery was used to sort out overflow into popular schools.

The study found that students who were successfully able to take advantage of school choice performed significantly better than those who did not.

Of the eight public schools in that district, the researchers ranked four as “low quality” and four as “high quality.” Students who lived in a neighborhood where the nearest school was low quality, but who won a lottery to attend a high quality school, were “more likely than lottery losers to graduate from high school, attend a four-year college, and earn a bachelor’s degree.

Although researchers David J. Deming, Justine S. Hastings, Thomas J. Kane and Douglas O. Steiger concluded that student choice is a definite positive for students, according to Matthew Yglesias of Think Progress.com, the study still doesn’t address the concerns of charter school skeptics that charter schools are not, on the whole, better than traditional public schools. If the assumption is that most districts have well-performing public schools, then:

“… kids with low-quality neighborhood schools are able to attend charter schools that are about as good on average as average public schools, then those kids are going to see huge benefits. By the same token, you wouldn’t expect there to be a ton of interest in launching charter schools in districts whose traditional public schools are of above-average quality.”