Study: School choice prevents crime

Low-income black males admitted by lottery to better schools were more likely to stay in school and less likely to be arrested compared to similar students who lost the transfer lottery. So concludes a study in Charlotte-Mecklenburg, North Carolina by David Deming, a Harvard education professor, in Education Next.

In general, high-risk students commit about 50 percent less crime as a result of winning a school choice lottery.  Among male high school students at high risk of criminal activity, winning admission to a first-choice school reduced felony arrests from 77 to 43 per 100 students over the study period (2002-2009).  The attendant social cost of crimes committed decreased by more than 35 percent.  Among high-risk middle school students, admittance by lottery to a preferred school reduced the average social cost of crimes committed by 63 percent (due chiefly to a reduction in violent crime), and reduced the total expected sentence of crimes committed by 31 months (64 percent).

The highest risk group was identified based on test scores, demographics, behavior, and neighborhood characteristics.

The study finds that the overall reductions in criminal activity are concentrated among the top 20 percent of high-risk students, who are disproportionately African American, eligible for free lunch, with more days of absence and suspensions than the average student.

All students had applied to transfer from their low-performing neighborhood school. Lottery winners moved to schools of average quality as measured by test scores, teacher experience and other factors.


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