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Education


School Choice Topics

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School Choice: Informing the Debate

The concept of school choice is central to many discussions about how to reform American education, and few ideas have provoked more heated debate. Some critics maintain that choice will divide the educational system, serving the most motivated families while regular public schools are left with increasingly disadvantaged students. Others argue that schools will respond vigorously to the competition created by school choice. School choice may take many forms, including school voucher programs, charter schools, magnet schools, and open enrollment policies within public school districts. Mathematica is helping to inform this debate by conducting rigorous evaluations of school choice programs, including experimental impact studies of (1) charter schools, and (2) school voucher programs.

Charter Schools

Designed to free educators from bureaucratic regulations and encourage innovations, charter schools are public schools that have been granted autonomy over their operations. Although charter schools have been authorized in most states and serve more than one million students, evidence is lacking on whether these publicly funded institutions promote student learning adequately.

Mathematica's charter school evaluations are helping to inform the debate. We are conducting studies of KIPP (Knowledge Is Power Program), a national network of open-enrollment college preparatory charter schools in underserved communities; charter management organizations (CMOs), nonprofit organizations that start and manage new charter schools; a national set of charter middle schools that hold admissions lotteries; and charter school outcomes in several states.

State Voucher Programs

A key question in the debates about school choice is what happens to students' educational achievement when families are given vouchers that cover at least part of the cost of private school tuition. Mathematica conducted an experiment to test a school choice program in New York City, offering vouchers to low-income families. The results showed positive impacts on test scores for African Americans, but no impacts on test scores for Latinos.