Indiana University SPEA Edward J. Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy University of Pennsylvania AIR American University

Panel Paper: Schools By Choice? Parental Preferences in Michigan's Inter-District Open Enrollment Program

Friday, November 13, 2015 : 10:55 AM
Japengo (Hyatt Regency Miami)

*Names in bold indicate Presenter

Benjamin Creed and Joshua Cowen, Michigan State University
Research on open enrollment programs providing intra or inter district school choice within the public sector, remains underdeveloped relative to studies of private and charter school programs. Among studies that have focused on this form of choice, research has largely considered who opts out of resident districts. A handful of district-level studies have also considered where actually attend. Generally, these studies have found that schools and districts receiving transfer students tended to be better advantaged, as measured by higher test scores, higher levels of resident income or housing value, or in some cases lower levels of non-white minority students (Fossey 1994; Armore and Peiser 1998; Reback 2008; Carlson, Lavery and Witte 2011) Taken as a whole, because there is evidence that districts with higher levels of achievement send students to districts with even higher student outcomes, and because students appear to be choosing within and out of comparably high income districts, the available evidence indicates that open enrollment programs are utilized primarily in areas where socioeconomic and academic advantages are already substantial (Carlson, Lavery and Witte 2011). 

The present paper contributes to this relatively underdeveloped literature in the school choice field by considering the characteristics of individual students who opt to leave their resident districts for a public school elsewhere through an open enrollment policy. Drawing on a rich set of administrative data on students in Michigan between 2005 and 2013, we follow up on earlier work examining the characteristics of choosers who, we find, tend to be from poor, minority families and have lower levels of achievement than their resident-district peers. Here we employ a McFadden choice model as a framework to consider the characteristics of schools these students choose.  We find a mixed pattern depending on the geographic locations of students, with a variety of meaningful choices available to some students, but few or even single-option alternatives available to others. Preliminary evidence indicates that these students select higher performing and lower-minority schools than those in their resident districts, but these results, coupled with our earlier findings suggests that these choices are temporary for more disadvantaged students. Taken as a whole, our evidence is consistent with an interpretation of Michigan’s open enrollment program as one that functions less as a well-developed market for parental preferences, and more as a system that simply expands student mobility—particularly for at-risk students—beyond traditional district boundaries.