Trends in Use of Choice and Previous Research

The typical Michigan student who exercises public school choice is more likely to come from a low-income household and more likely to be a racial minority, compared to the rest of the state’s public school population.[9] The gap between charter and conventional schools is especially pronounced. Seven in 10 charter school students qualify as low-income, compared to 43 percent of those in district-run public schools. Among charter students, one-half are African-American and only one-third are white, while their conventional school counterparts are 70 percent white and 14 percent African-American.[10]

A 2015 Michigan State University study using multiple years of data found that 54 percent of Schools of Choice participants received free or reduced-price lunches based on their household income. Choice participants were much more likely to be African-American (27 percent), but less likely to be white (65 percent) or Hispanic (5 percent), as compared to the average for the statewide public school population.[11]

The MSU study also identified a couple noteworthy trends regarding Schools of Choice participation. First, white and relatively high-achieving students are more likely to transfer from the lowest-performing school districts.[12] Second, while the most disadvantaged students throughout the state are more likely to use Schools of Choice to exit their home district, they are also more likely to switch back. One example of this phenomenon was highlighted in the study: Only 28 percent of low-income students who enrolled in a school out of their home district in kindergarten continued to use Schools of Choice through fifth grade.[13]

Limited research on Michigan public school choice identifies neutral to positive academic impacts. A pair of studies by Stanford University’s Center for Research on Education Outcomes found that one year of attending a Michigan charter school was worth an extra two months of learning in math and reading, on average. About half the charters produced similar results as surrounding districts schools, while most of the rest fared significantly better.[14]

Additional analysis of the multiyear Schools of Choice data found less measurable academic benefit overall. There is “likely no discernible difference in math or reading test scores between kids who transfer using [Schools of Choice] and those who remain in their home districts,” lead author Joshua Cowen wrote about the 2015 MSU study he co-authored.[15] However, a 2013 Mackinac Center analysis found that students are more likely to use Schools of Choice to transfer to districts with higher standardized test scores and better graduation rates.[16]