Panel Paper: Dynamic Participation In Interdistrict Open Enrollment

Friday, November 9, 2012 : 10:25 AM
Salon B (Radisson Plaza Lord Baltimore Hotel)

*Names in bold indicate Presenter

Lesley Lavery, Macalester College and Deven Carlson, University of Wisconsin-Madison

Interdistrict open enrollment policies allow students to attend public schools located in a district other than the one in which they reside. These policies currently exist in over 40 states and hundreds of thousands of students utilize these programs annually.  In fact, more students are served by interdistrict open enrollment programs than any of the better-known choice programs—school vouchers, magnet programs, or charter schools.  Despite the broad scope of these policies, there has been relatively little research on the operations and effects of interdistrict open enrollment, and no research has utilized student-level data to analyze these programs.

This paper employs five years of student-level data from the universe of students attending public schools in Colorado to analyze dynamic participation in interdistrict open enrollment programs.  We begin by analyzing the characteristics of individuals who choose to participate in interdistrict open enrollment at the earliest available time, when they begin kindergarten.  We then proceed by estimating a series of hazard models to examine the characteristics of two classes of students.  First, we analyze students who, conditional on participating in the baseline year, continue to utilize interdistrict open enrollment in subsequent years.  Second, we explore the characteristics of students who, conditional on not open enrolling in the baseline year, participate in the program in one or more subsequent years.  We acknowledge the potential for heterogeneity by separately analyzing different grade ranges and districts with varying urbanicity, including Denver, suburban districts, and rural districts; it is possible that individuals at different education levels and in different district types use interdistrict open enrollment programs for different reasons.

The results of these analyses provide significant insight into a variety of important issues.  They will reveal whether interdistrict open enrollment is being used by low-income, at-risk students to gain access to better educational options—the stated intent of the original policy—or primarily exists as a means for middle- and upper-middle-class students to attend elite public schools that would otherwise be out of reach.  Previous research based on district-level data has provided some preliminary evidence on this issue, but our student-level analyses can provide a more definitive conclusion.  Similarly, our analyses will indicate whether families view interdistrict open enrollment as a short-term educational solution—perhaps until families can physically relocate to a more desirable district—or as a long-term fix to a problem of limited educational options.  Taken together, the analyses and comparisons presented in this paper will provide important information into the operations and effects of an oft-overlooked, yet very important, school choice policy.

Full Paper: