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Wednesday, 27th August 2008

Plotting School Choice: The Challenges of Crossing District Lines

Plotting School Choice: The Challenges of Crossing District Lines
Source: Education Sector

Allowing students to transfer to schools across district lines is gaining more attention as a strategy for reformers looking to reduce economic and racial segregation in public education and give students in failing schools a better chance to achieve. A number of organizations, including the nonpartisan Century Foundation and the Citizens' Commission on Civil Rights have endorsed the idea. Interdistrict choice, they argue, would allow students in low-performing schools—schools that often have high concentrations of low-income and minority students—to move to higher-performing schools with very different economic and racial profiles.

Many of these same organizations have pushed for including interdistrict choice in the federal No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB). The law requires that students in low-performing schools be allowed to transfer voluntarily to higher-performing schools within their school system. But because there are so few higher-performing-school options for such students, only a tiny fraction of them have been able to take advantage of the intradistrict transfer opportunity.

But permitting students to move further, beyond school system boundaries, is unlikely to increase most students’ educational opportunities significantly. A new Education Sector analysis of school performance information suggests that only a limited number of students in a limited number of locations are likely to benefit from interdistrict choice—and even then only if carefully crafted policies succeed where many past programs have failed.

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