A new National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) study written by a few Ivy League economists concluded that students who won a school choice lottery had significantly higher test scores and fewer suspensions and absences than those who did not.

In “The Effect of School Choice on Intrinsic Motivation and Academic Outcomes,” Justine Hastings, Christopher Neilson, and Seth Zimmerman did not identify the “low-income urban school district” that was the subject of the study.  But similar studies of Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools (CMS) found that school choice raised student achievement and improved social outcomes.  Like the CMS study, Hastings et al used data from a school choice lottery because it replicates an experimental research design, that is, it randomly assigned students to experimental (lottery winner) and control (lottery loser) groups.  (By the way, this research design is considered to be the “gold standard” in social science research.)

Interestingly, Hastings and her colleagues found that students who chose charter schools had much higher test score gains than those who chose district magnet schools. They explain,

Since charters are allowed to highly specialize and may attract students of parents looking for specialized schools to meet what they believe are their children’s idiosyncratic needs, lottery estimates of local average treatment effects may be very different than what an average student might expect to gain if randomly assigned to that school. Magnet schools may not be so highly targeted or specialized, and particularly in the context of a broad magnet choice program where a large fraction of public schools are magnet choice schools. (p. 17)

Schools that meet what parents believe are their children’s idiosyncratic needs?  What a novel concept!