School Choice, School Quality and Postsecondary Attainment

The evaluation of school-choice programs has
largely been relegated to the elementary and middle school levels, where
student-test data are more readily available. How these programs affect
students’ high school achievement—and their college-going and
college-completion rates—has proven difficult to measure. This NBER paper
begins to fill that research void, taking a first look at the outcomes of the
Charlotte-Mecklenburg (CMS) open-enrollment initiative, which began in 2001.
Researchers linked student-level CMS administrative data for close to 20,000
high schoolers to data from the National Student Clearinghouse, which deals
with college enrollment. Their findings tack a gold-star on the chest of
intradistrict choice: Students who won the lottery to attend a better school
outside their own neighborhood closed about 75 percent of the black-white high
school-graduation gap—and about 23 percent of the college-completion gap.
Within the lottery-winner population, GPA, attendance rates, and math-course
completion rates also improved. Importantly, analysts found no evidence of
“cream skimming” among the lottery winners, randomly selected from the near 50
percent of CMS students who applied for out-of-bounds placements. The takeaway?
Given the right school environment, student achievement can improve, and high
school is not too late. Too bad CMS put the brakes on this program in 2008-09.

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David J. Deming, Justine S. Hastings, Thomas J.
Kane, and Douglas O. Staiger, “School
Choice, School Quality and Postsecondary Attainment
,” (Cambridge, MA:
National Bureau of Economic Research, September 2011).