Public School Choice in the District of Columbia: A Descriptive Analysis
Forget federal politics for a minute. There is one area where Washington deserves kudos for its leadership: school choice. As this Center for Analysis of Longitudinal Data in Education Research (CALDER) brief explains, D.C. has one of the most extensive choice programs in the nation. During the 2008-09 year, only 35 percent of District students attended their traditional neighborhood school. The others could be found attending “out-of-boundary” publics (31 percent) or charter schools (34 percent). Furthermore, choice programs seem to be reaching those who need them most—poor and minority youngsters are significantly more likely to exercise choice than their affluent and white peers. Data also show a willingness to add several miles to the daily commute in order to attend the school of their choice. Of course, D.C.’s choice initiative isn’t flawless. This study finds evidence of “cream-skimming”—whereby relatively high-scoring students (still poor and minority, mind you) are likelier to take advantage of choice. In D.C., students who opted into out-of-boundary public schools entered their new school one-sixth of a standard deviation ahead of their “staying” peers in reading and one-fifth of a standard deviation ahead in math. (Students opting into charters significantly outperformed their “staying” peers, as well.) A difficult issue indeed, but surely not a decisive argument against school-choice programs, since the alternative—keeping everybody padlocked to failing schools—is hardly preferable.
Umut Özek, “Public School Choice in the District of Columbia: A Descriptive Analysis,” (Washington, D.C.: National Center for Analysis of Longitudinal Data in Education Research, April 2011).
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