Panel: Would I Walk 500 Miles? Understanding the Roles of Distance and Transportation in Choice-Rich Environments

Saturday, November 9, 2019: 10:15 AM-11:45 AM
Plaza Building: Concourse Level, Governor's Square 16 (Sheraton Denver Downtown)

*Names in bold indicate Presenter

Organizer:  Danielle Sanderson Edwards, Michigan State University
Panel Chair:  Joshua Cowen, Michigan State University
Discussants:  Betheny Gross, University of Washington and Sean Corcoran, Vanderbilt University

Over the last two decades, the expansion of school choice policies has broken the link between residence and school assignment for over one third of U.S. public school students. In urban areas, about half of students attend a school outside their neighborhood. Theoretically, school choice policies should increase access to high quality schools, but the ability to attend excellent schools is constrained by distance since students must travel to and from school every day. To increase access to schools farther away from home, some choice rich cities have expanded the provision of transportation beyond assigned school. However, little is known about the effectiveness of transportation in increasing access to quality schools. The papers in this panel add to the burgeoning literature on the roles of distance and geography in increasing access to high quality schools in choice rich environments by examining the relationships between transportation and choice of school, student mobility, access to high performing schools, and district responses to school choice policies in Detroit, Baltimore, New Orleans, and New York City.

The first paper uses student level data to estimate the effect of the provision of transportation on choice of school in Detroit where one in five students leave the city every day to attend school, forty percent attend charter schools, and about a quarter attend their assigned school. However, Detroit students are only guaranteed transportation to their assigned schools. This work attempts to provide some the first causal evidence on the effect of transportation by examining the role of transportation eligibility in determining where to attend school.

The next paper explores the relationship between commute difficulty and the likelihood of transferring schools for high school students in Baltimore where students receive free public transportation if they do not live in walking distance. Using student and public transportation scheduling data, the authors find that students with longer commute times are more likely to transfer schools and transfer to schools closer to home.

The third set of authors examine the associations between neighborhood characteristics and access to high performing schools in New Orleans where schools are required to provide transportation to students living farther than a reasonable walking distance from their school. They find that students living in more impoverished areas of the city have less access to quality schools because these schools are concentrated in affluent neighborhoods.

The final paper uses data collected from interviews with district and charter school administrators in Detroit, New Orleans, and New York City to understand how district respond to the challenges of transporting students exacerbated by school choice policies. The challenges reported by administrators include high costs, student mobility, and safety. These challenges may influence schools’ recruitment strategies.

Each of these four papers address a different aspect of school transportation in choice rich cities that affects the ability of students to access high quality schools. Collectively, they can provide insight to policymakers interested in designing effective transportation policies, a direct but expensive policy lever.

The Effect of Transportation Eligibility on Choice of School in Detroit
Danielle Sanderson Edwards, Michigan State University

A Choice Too Far? Transit Difficulty and Early High School Transfer in a System of School Choice
Marc Stein, Julia Burdick-Will and Jeffrey Grigg, John Hopkins University

Does Neighborhood Still Matter in a Citywide System of School Choice?
Jane Lincove, University of Maryland, Baltimore County and Jon Valant, Brookings Institution

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