What happens when kids lose the school choice lottery
Pinellas parents are often frustrated when they don’t win the fundamental school lottery. This new study will make them feel worse: It finds that students in another urban district who were zoned for low-quality high schools but won a magnet school lottery went on to perform better than the lottery losers.
They had higher GPAs, better attendance and were more likely to take tougher math classes. They graduated at higher rates, went to college at higher rates and earned bachelor’s degrees at higher rates. They were also twice as likely to earn degrees from top-notch colleges like Duke or UNC-Chapel Hill. Why?
“Unfortunately, we cannot say much about the underlying explanation for the gains experienced by lottery winners from low-quality neighborhood schools,” write the study’s authors, all Ivy League researchers. It might be, they suggested, that the chosen schools, often magnet schools with specialized programs such as career academies or intensive college prep, engaged kids better. Or it could be “that having demographically similar but more able peers led to increased student learning and engagement inside the classroom.”
The study is part of the National Bureau of Economic Research’s working paper series.
We’ve long thought that someone with serious research chops should track the winners and losers of the fundamental school lottery in Pinellas, which is a fairly unique animal. (In fact, we were hoping Northwestern University professor David Figlio might veer into this as he was exploring why black students in Pinellas perform worse than black students elsewhere. But since that proposed study got switcharoo'd, and then back-burnered, oh well.)
The fact is, a roll of the bureaucratic dice in Pinellas puts some applicants into super-high-performing fundamental schools and leaves others in lower-performing, zoned schools. Do the different tracks change the trajectory of their academic performance? And if so, by how much?
It’d be nice to have that kind of data before the board considers another fundamental school expansion, which given the political pressures, is inevitable. And if the results show lottery winners are in fact launched into a higher orbit, what then?
(Image from potatosandwich.files.wordpress.com)