Students who take advantage of school choice are more likely to attend better performing districts
Nearly 100,000 students use Michigan’s “Schools of Choice” program, but are they and their parents really making good choices? Should the program be expanded or should students be forced to only attend the school in their neighborhood?
A new study looks at how many students are taking advantage of school choice and shows that they are making good academic choices.
Schools of Choice was established in Michigan in 1996. It provides an opportunity for students to attend conventional schools, even if they live outside of the school’s boundary. Districts are allowed to not accept students, but they are not able to prevent students from leaving and taking the state aid fund money with them.
Today, about 7 percent of Michigan’s public school students use the program to attend a school outside of the district where they live, according to a study by the Mackinac Center for Public Policy. The study, "The Public School Market In Michigan: An Analysis of Schools of Choice," shows that schools of choice enrollment growth has increased 144 percent in the past decade.
And students and parents are making good educational choices, said Audrey Spalding, director of education policy at the Mackinac Center and the author of the report.
"Parents and their children are choosing districts with higher graduation rates, higher test scores and lower dropout rates — a positive sign," Spalding said.
Schools of Choice used to be predominantly used by students in rural districts, probably because the schools are spread out and many families lived closer to a school separate from the one they were drawn to attend. But the program now is more widespread.
“Only a handful of districts this past year didn't have a student leave for another district, showing that there really is no ‘one-size-fits-all’ district out there,” Spalding said.
The study also looked at participation among districts and tracked where students were coming and going. The big winners for students were Clintondale, Oak Park and West Bloomfield. Those were the top three of the 15 districts that added at least 1,000 students through the program. Nearly 70 percent of Clintondale’s 3,715 students were schools of choice students.
On the other hand, Detroit, Lansing and East Detroit were the leaders among the 16 districts that lost at least 1,000 pupils. Mount Clemens had 1,020 students leave the district, almost 45 percent of their total student population.
The study recommends the state expand the program. Currently, there are geographic limitations on Schools of Choice. Students may only attend a school in the same Intermediate School District or one that borders theirs. As online education and other programs arise, this limits many students who could attend a district that offers online programs.
The study also recommends allowing conventional school districts to innovate by opening schools outside of their borders. Berrien Springs is one example of a district that has looked beyond its geographic borders to serve alternative education students.
If the state allowed districts the freedom to open up schools outside of their borders, districts could adapt to Michigan's changing educational landscape and better serve students.