A newly released report by David Deming, assistant professor at the Harvard Graduate School for Education, shows that school choice doesn’t just foster academic improvement and increased graduation rates—students are also safer.

Deming studied data on the amount of criminal activity that occurred in the Charlotte–Mecklenburg school district (CMS) after the district ended its policy of busing students in 2001. CMS had enacted its busing policy to satisfy Swann v. Charlotte, a court order to desegregate schools in the district starting in 1971. In 2001, the court order was overturned, and CMS was told it could no longer determine school assignments based on race. A year later, CMS decided to implement a one-time, lottery-based school choice program for its students. Parents of CMS students were allowed to submit up to three school choices for their children but were guaranteed a spot in the school in their district, if they chose that school.

Deming’s findings, detailed in Education Next, were clear about the positive effects school choice can have on a community.

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.

Deming’s findings add to a growing body of research detailing the many benefits of school choice and increased student safety. Research conducted on student safety in Milwaukee charter schools has shown increases in student safety when compared to traditional public schools. And similarly, access to the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program has provided students an alternative to the often unsafe D.C. Public Schools. In fact, for the 2007–2008 school year, had it not been for the scholarships, D.C. voucher students would have had to attend one of 70 assigned public schools in which there were:

  • 2,379 reports of crime-related incidents, more than 650 of which were violent crimes;
  • 855 property-related crimes; and
  • 43 reports of gunshots.

School safety is a critical piece in determining whether a child has a quality educational experience. Education researcher Patrick Wolf, the lead investigator for the congressionally mandated evaluations of the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program, found that parents of voucher students felt satisfied with their child’s safety after two years of attending their private school, thus allowing them to turn their attention to their child’s academic needs.

[F]amilies have shifted their focus from an emphasis on school safety to matters concerning their children’s academic development. These parents feel that their basic concerns about safety have been assuaged, and they can now turn their attention to monitoring their children’s grades, test scores and other aspects of their academic development.

The Charlotte study is another example of why families should be empowered to choose an educational option that is in the best interest of their children and why it is critical for policymakers to continue the momentum established in 2011, the “Year of School Choice.”

Evan Walter is currently a member of the Young Leaders Program at The Heritage Foundation. For more information on interning at Heritage, please visit: http://www.heritage.org/about/departments/ylp.cfm