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.