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In the Spring 2012 issue of Education Next, Harvard education professor David Deming published an insightful study of the relationship between school choice and crime. Deming analyzed two groups of low-income African American students from Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools (CMS) – one group had won a random lottery for admission to a better school under a districtwide open-enrollment school-choice plan and one had not. The use of a lottery replicates a randomized (or experimental) research design, the “gold standard” in social science research.
Deming concluded that students who gained admission to a better school were less likely to commit a crime and were more likely to stay in school. He wrote,
I find consistent evidence that attending a better school reduces crime among those age 16 and older, across various schools, and for both middle and high school students. The effect is largest for African American males and youth who are at highest risk for criminal involvement. In general, high-risk male youth commit about 50 percent less crime as a result of winning the school-choice lottery. They are also more likely to remain enrolled in school, and they show modest improvements on measures of behavior such as absences and suspensions. Yet there is no detectable impact on test scores for any youth in the sample.
Most importantly, students exhibited a lasting change in behavior. Deming discovered that the impact of winning the school-choice lottery persisted for up to seven years after their initial transfer.