Scores drop when students move to private, magnet schools

Students who leave neighborhood public schools for private or magnet schools tend to fall behind academically in the year after they transfer, according to a new study of school choice in Indianapolis.

Students who move to charter schools don’t fall behind, but neither do they move ahead. Their performance is about the same as if they had stayed in their neighborhood school, the study finds.

The authors of the study, Mark Berends at the University of Notre Dame and R. Joseph Waddington of the University of Kentucky, say the findings don’t discredit the potential benefits of school choice, but they raise questions about the conditions under which choice might be a strategy for improving academic achievement.

“It’s sort of a cautionary tale, that school choice is not a panacea,” said Berends, a professor of sociology and director of Notre Dame’s Center for Research on Educational Opportunity.

The study, “School Choice in Indianapolis:  Effects of Charter, Magnet, Private, and Traditional Public Schools,” has been accepted for publication and posted by the journal Education Finance and Policy.

Berends and Waddington analyzed several years of ISTEP test math and English/language arts scores for Indianapolis students in grades 3-8. The students attended neighborhood and magnet schools in public school districts as well as charter schools and private schools in the city. Magnet schools are public schools organized around themes, such as international engagement, foreign language immersion and Montessori education; students typically apply for admission to the schools.

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School choice adds to growth in economic segregation

Segregation of public schools by family income has increased significantly in the past two decades, according to a new study by three leading education researchers. And school-choice policies have likely contributed to economic segregation, they say.

The study draws on multiple data sources to measure segregation of students between school districts and segregation between schools within the same districts. Interestingly, it finds some of the largest increases were in intra-district segregation.

The study is in this month’s issue of the American Educational Research Journal. Authors are Ann Owens of the University of Southern California, Sean Reardon of Stanford and Christopher Jenks of Harvard.

Findings include:

  • Segregation by income between school districts increased by 15 percent between 1990 and 2010.
  • In the nation’s 100 largest school districts, economic segregation within districts increased by 40 percent during the same period.
  • Economic segregation of schools is about two-thirds as extensive as white-black segregation and about the same as white-Hispanic segregation.

The study concludes that rising income inequality in the U.S. is a primary cause of the growing economic segregation of schools. As the gap grows between rich and poor, affluent families are more likely to segregate themselves into enclaves where there are few poor children in the public schools.

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