New studies highlight both short-run and long-run school choice successes in 2012, showing real strides in student achievement resulting from school choice reforms and bolstering the argument for implementing choice initiatives.
Student Behavioral Change and Improved Test Scores Resulting from School Choice
A National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) working paper written by Yale economists Justine Hastings, Christopher Neilson and Seth Zimmerman focuses on short-term outcomes of students’ behaviors and test scores due to school choice initiatives. The authors use unique daily data from a low-income urban school district.
At the individual level, students who win lotteries to attend the school of their choice display significantly lower absences, suspensions and truancies after finding out the lottery outcomes—even before they enroll in their new school. The effects are largest for male students entering high school, whose truancy rates decline by 21 percent in the months after winning the lottery.1 The authors interpret the findings as students exerting more effort at their current schools due to an increase in intrinsic motivation from knowing that they will be able to attend the school of their choice the following school year.
Increases in student test scores bolster the argument for school choice. Students who attended charter schools and high value-added magnet schools—public schools with specialized curricula—substantially improved their test scores. Test score increases are thought to result from an immediate effect on student behavior, as well as from attending a higher-performing school.
Effects of School Vouchers on Long-Run Student Achievement
In August 2012, the Brown Center on Education Policy at the Brookings Institute and Harvard’s Kennedy School Program on Education Policy and Governance jointly published The Effects of School Vouchers on College Enrollment: Experimental Evidence from New York City.2 Most research on educational intervention and school choice initiatives focus on short-term outcomes such as students’ test scores. This study is the first study of its kind, using a randomized experiment to measure long-term impacts on students from educational intervention—specifically the impact of school vouchers on college enrollment.
Data for this study came from the privately funded New York School Choice Scholarships Foundation Program (SCSF). Beginning in the spring of 1997, SCSF began offering three-year scholarships worth up to $1,400 annually to as many at 1,000 low-income families with children either entering first grade or who were in a public school in grades one through five. These scholarships, or vouchers, allowed students to attend any of hundreds of private schools in New York.
Due to the high demand for the vouchers, SCSF conducted a lottery to determine which applicants could obtain scholarships. Because of the lottery the research team was able to evaluate SCSF by following two cohorts of students: those who applied but did not receive a voucher, and those who were chosen from the lottery and did receive a voucher. The college enrollment outcomes measured were:
- Enrollment within three years of expected high school graduation;
- Full-time enrollment within three years;
- Enrollment in two-year and four-year colleges;
- Enrollment in public and private colleges; and
- Enrollment in selective colleges.
Although there was no significant impact on college enrollment from the overall population, there was a significant impact once the population was broken down by race and ethnicity. Key findings include:
- Using a voucher to attend private school increased the college enrollment rate of African Americans by 8.7 percentage points—an overall increase of 24 percent.
- The percentage of African American students who attended a selective four-year college more than doubled if the student was offered a voucher.
Of all the students eligible to receive vouchers, African American students were especially at risk of not going to college after high school graduation. Families who received a voucher and sent their child to private school greatly increased the likelihood of overcoming this disadvantage and obtaining a college education.
Charter School Outcomes 2012
A series of charter school studies released in 2012 by Stanford University’s Center for Research on Education Outcomes (CREDO) found that charter school students outperform their district school counterparts.
- In New Jersey charter school students on average gain an additional two months of learning per year in reading and an additional three months of learning per year in math compared to their district school counterparts. A significant finding came from the results of the urban charter schools in the state. Students enrolled in urban charter schools in New Jersey learn significantly more in both math and reading compared to their traditional public school peers. In fact, charter students in Newark gain an additional seven and a half months in reading per year and nine months per year in math compared to their traditional public school counterparts. Students enrolled in suburban charter schools also learn significantly more in both math and reading compared to their peers in traditional public schools; however, students in rural charter schools learn significantly less than their district school peers in both reading and math.3
- The typical student in a Michigan charter school gains more learning in a year than his or her traditional school peer, amounting to about an additional two months of learning in reading and math. The results for the typical student in a Detroit charter school (27% of the state’s charter students) were even more pronounced, with students gaining on average nearly three months achievement for each year they attend charter schools. “These findings show that Michigan has set policies and practices for charter schools and their authorizers to produce consistent high quality across the state. The findings are especially welcome for students in communities that face significant education challenges,” said CREDO at Stanford University’s Director Dr. Margaret Raymond.4
- The typical student in an Indiana charter school gains more learning in a year than his or her traditional school peer, amounting to about an additional month and a half of learning in reading and math. The results for the typical student in an Indianapolis charter school were more pronounced, equating to two months of additional learning in reading and nearly three months in math.5
- Students in Boston’s charter schools achieved the highest average rate of increase in academic performance of any city or state studied by CREDO.6 Overall, Massachusetts charter school students gained an additional one and a half months of learning per year in reading and an additional two and a half months of learning per year in math. This number of additional months gained in reading and math increases nearly ten-fold among Boston charter school students, who gained twelve months of additional learning per year in reading and thirteen months of additional learning in math compared with their traditional public school counterparts.
- New York City charter school students outperformed traditional public school peers in both reading and in math.7 On average, charter school students gained an additional month of learning per year in reading and an additional five months of learning per year in math compared to students enrolled in traditional public schools. Students enrolled in charter schools in Harlem showed even higher gains in math, averaging an additional seven months of learning compared to students enrolled in traditional public schools.
In addition, Mathematica Policy Research recently released its five-year investigation of 43 public charter schools—the largest study ever of a charter school network.8 The schools in the study belong to the Knowledge Is Power Program (KIPP), a growing network of public charter schools whose mission is to improve the education of low-income children. KIPP has 125 schools located across 20 states and the District of Columbia, but this study focused on the network’s fifth- through eighth-grade middle schools, the core of the charter school network.
In order to control for demographic and socioeconomic differences, the authors of the study matched future KIPP students with a fourth grade elementary school classmate who did not plan to attend a KIPP school the following year, but who did have similar characteristics and achievement trajectories at that point in time. The state and national test scores of matched KIPP and non-KIPP students were then compared annually for four years.
The study concluded that the average impact of KIPP on student achievement is positive, statistically significant, and educationally substantial. Across the four academic subjects examined—reading, math, science, and social studies—impact estimates are consistently positive in each of the first four years after enrollment in a KIPP school.
Compared to students who remain in traditional public school, KIPP students gain an average eleven months of additional learning growth in math after three years of enrollment, eight months of additional learning growth in reading after three years of enrollment, fourteen months of additional learning growth in science after three to four years of enrollment, and eleven months of additional learning growth in social studies after three to four years of enrollment.
2 M. Chingos and P. Peterson, The Effects of School Vouchers on College Enrollment: Experimental Evidence from New York City. (Cambridge: Brookings Institute & Harvard Kennedy School, 2012).
3 Charter School Performance in New Jersey, (Palo Alto: Stanford University: Center for Research on Education Outcomes, November 1, 2012).
4 Charter School Performance in Michigan, (Palo Alto: Stanford University: Center for Research on Education Outcomes, January 11, 2013).
5 Charter School Performance in Indiana, (Palo Alto: Stanford University: Center for Research on Education Outcomes, December 12, 2012).
8 C. Tuttle et al. KIPP Middle Schools: Impacts on Achievement and Other Outcomes, (Washington, DC: Mathematica Policy Research, 2013).