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Open Enrollment...Is Choice Really Beneficial? - Thursday, June 24, 2010

Open Enrollment

Is Choice Really Beneficial?


The take-over of public schools in New Orleans, post Katrina, has been cited as a model of the open enrollment, portfolio public school system of the future.

Choice purportedly equates to improved student achievement, and better communities.

Sadly, evidence that these results can be substantiated is lacking.  Partly this is due to the fact that the RSD operated schools in New Orleans may have too few years of operation on which to base such conclusions.

However, a working paper produced by the Urban Institute concluded "that open enrollment programs fail to improve the achievement levels of those who exercise this form of choice.”

The paper was published by the National Center for Analysis of Longitudinal Data in Education Research (CALDER) a program of research by the Urban Institute with Duke, Stanford, Florida, Missouri, Texas and Washington universities.  The lead researcher is Umut Ozek of the University of Florida.  His study used data from the School Board of Pinellas County.  It is one of the largest school districts in the United States.

A finding in the study was that "households react strongly to the incentives created by such (open enrollment choice) programs, leading to significant changes in the frequency of exercising alternative public schooling options.”  Reportedly mobility rates in the RSD exceed 40% of students changing schools annually.

The author found that no significant benefit of students opting out on student achievement.  Also, the author finds "those who opt out of their default public schools often perform significantly worse on standardized tests than similar students who stay behind.”

According to a new study of New Orleans high schools, by the Research on Reforms Institute, the greatest challenge facing the state lay with the failing high schools of the city.  The new study concludes:  "Tragically, the Recovery School District (RSD) has done nothing to improve the standing of New Orleans high schools, especially the seven lowest performing high schools.”

Research indicates that fewer 10th grade students in the seven lowest performing high schools are being tested in 2010 than were tested by their high schools in 2004-05.  In the latter period 85% of the 10th grade count was tested, while this year only 72% were tested.  While 79% of all RSD 10th graders were tested, 96% of all non-RSD high schools took the 10th grade tests.

The study suggests that "since test scores are a main component of the school’s performance score, a school could deliberately not test its lowest performing students in order to improve its score.”  Another explanation may be that more students have dropped out.