David Deming, as Assistant Professor at Harvard, analyzed data from disadvantaged high risk students from the Charlotte Mecklenburg Schools. At the time of the study, CMS had a district wide open enrollment school choice plan. In the event that a school was oversubscribed, lotteries were used to admit students. Deming compared the criminal activity of students who won the lottery to attend their first choice to those students who lost the lottery. Deming then measured the impact of school quality on arrest and incarceration rates for disadvantaged high-risk youth. What did Deming find?
I find that winning a lottery for admission to a preferred school at the high school level reduces the total number of felony arrests and the social costs of crime. Among middle school students, winning a school choice lottery reduces the social cost of crime and the number of days incarcerated. Importantly, I find that these overall reductions in criminal activity are concentrated among students in the highest-risk group. Indeed, I find little impact either positive or negative of winning a school choice lottery on criminal activity for the 80 percent of students outside of this group.
While Deming acknowledged the study has limitations, he found that winning a lottery for admission to the school of choice greatly reduces criminal activity of high-risk youth and that the impacts persist beyond the initial years of school enrollment. Since many high-risk youth dropout of school prior to graduation and are incarcerated, public school choice can provide an effective opportunity for intervention.
The results are something to think about; especially for those who believe public education should be about affording students the opportunity to obtain a quality education.