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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  1. Better schools usually includes better behavior; at least, I’ve never heard of a decent school that tolerated disruptions. It’s the “one bad apple spoils the whole barrel” phenomenon; keep kids away from the badly behaved and they will behave better.

  2. And where are our stalwart defenders against the looming evil of charter schools?

    Let’s see, Mike’s going to go with the usual – not peer-reviewed and published in a learned journal. Can’t very well go with “those who don’t teach can’t discuss education” since the good professor is a professor and at an ed school to boot. I think that qualifies as a teacher.

    CarolinSF’s not chimed in either or Mazenko.

    You’ve got to admit that “less like to go to jail or get shot” is a pretty potent sales gimmick for a charter. Too bad the competing district schools can’t make the same claim.

    • I was thinking the same thing, but the journal is in fact peer reviewed:

      • Mark Roulo says:

        With a little bit of work, we *can* link the article to right wing thinking.

        The author, David J. Deming, is doing work
        funded by the Spencer Foundation, and the Spencer
        Foundation was the founder of SRA. SRA publishes
        Direct Instruction programs, so they have to be
        right wing nuts like the Heritage Foundation.

  3. Schooling and Violence
    E. G. West
    Carleton University, Department of Economics
    Ottawa, Canada

    We conclude that so far there is no evidence to support the 19th century Utilitarian hypothesis that the use of a secular and public school system will reduce crime. Beyond this there is some evidence indeed that suggests the reverse causality: crime actually increases with the increase in the size of the public school sector. Such findings will undoubtedly stimulate further work, and clearly more research would be helpful. But if further investigation confirms the findings of Lott, Fremling, and Coleman, we must reach the verdict that the cost of public schooling is much higher than was originally believed. Published figures show that the conventional cost of public schools, on average, are already just over twice those of private schools.11 When we add to this the extra social costs of increased delinquency, the full seriousness of the inefficiency of our public school system is more starkly exposed.

    A statistician in the office of the Attorney General, State of Hawaii gave me these charts. Defenders of the NEA/AFT/AFSCME cartel’s exclusive position in receipt of the taxpayers’ pre0college education subsidy may assert that this is an artifact of monitoring. In Hawaii, juvenile hospitalizations for human-induced trauma fall in summer. Reported home burglaries fall in summer. Auto burglaries (not auto theft) rise in summer.
    Apologies in advance if I formatted links and quotes incorrectly.

  4. Every law is a threat by the State to kidnap (arrest) assault (subdue) and forcibly infect with HIV (imprison) someone, under some specified circumstance. Compulsory attendance laws subject students (and parents) to threats of organized violence.
    Albert Einstein
    “Force and Fear Have No Place in Education”

    To me the worst thing seems to be for a school principally to work with methods of fear, force and artificial authority. Such treatment destroys the sound sentiments, the sincerity and self-confidence of the pupil. It produces the submissive subject. . . It is comparatively simple to keep the school free from this worst of all evils. Give into the power of the teacher the fewest possible coercive measures, so that the only source of the pupil’s respect for the teacher is the human and intellectual qualities of the latter.

    “Force” is a matter of degree. Compulsory attendance statutes provoke a stronger allergic reaction in students with no academic aspirations. Schools offer few incentives to mechanically or artistically inclined children.