Does the chance to go to a better school matter? Sure it does.
Authors Hastings, Neilson, and Zimmerman report on the effect of a school choice lottery in a large, low-income urban school district. Lottery winners got the chance to attend better than average district schools. You won’t be surprised to learn that the students who went to a charter school had substantial test gains, and that there was at least some evidence of gains to attending a magnet school.
Here’s the clever and intriguing finding of the research team. The authors were able to track attendance records of individual students. Male high school entrants lowered truancy rates 21 percent after winning the lottery, but before entering their new school. (Female students didn’t change their attendance behavior.) In other words, just knowing they were being given a real chance motivated these students.