Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Freakonomics and School Choice

Freakonomics, the 2005 best-selling book by University of Chicago economist Steven Levitt and New York Times writer Stephen Dubner, made economics both readable and entertaining.  And now the authors of the blog behind the bestseller have turned to school choice.  In a blog post published earlier this week, the Freakonomics bloggers have taken a good look at the effect of school choice on student motivation and academic outcomes.

Citing a paper from the National Bureau of Economic Research, the freakonomists unsurprisingly communicated the data in an easily-digestible manner for everyone to understand.  The result:

[W]e use unique daily data on individual-level student absences and suspensions to show that lottery winners have significantly lower truancies after they learn about lottery outcomes but before they enroll in their new schools. The effects are largest for male students entering high school, whose truancy rates decline by 21% in the months after winning the lottery.

The freakonomists go on:

We interpret this as students exerting more effort towards academics at their current school due to an increase in intrinsic motivation from knowing that they will be able to attend a school of their choice in the subsequent school year.

Furthermore, test scores seem to bolster the argument:

We then examine the impact attending a chosen school has on student test score outcomes. We find substantial test score gains from attending a charter school and some evidence that choosing and attending a high value-added magnet school improves test scores as well. Our results contribute to current evidence that school choice programs can effectively raise test scores of participants. Our findings suggest that this may occur both through an immediate effect on student behavior and through the benefit of attending a higher-performing school.

The folks at Freakonomics give us yet another reason to support all educational options.

- American Federation for Children | Alliance for School Choice, MSG

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