Matt makes some good points about new numbers on the effectiveness of “interdistrict transfers” in providing disadvantaged students with better educational options. Let’s think about this, though:
Thereâ€™s been a spate of interest recently among progressives in doing more to promote the availability of â€œinterdistrict transfersâ€ that would let students shift out of their current public school and into a different school in a different district. The idea would be to do something to undue the unfair consequences of our current arbitrary system of district boundaries.
Why is the current system of district boundaries unfair? That’s the critical question. There are many possibilities. I’ll name a few. It could be that in richer districts, schools simply have more monetary resources, and can attract better teachers and build better facilities. It could be that in richer districts, teaching is done in a methodologically better fashion. It could be that in richer districts, there are positive spillovers within the school, such that greater parental involvement creates accountability and higher student expectations. It could be that in richer districts, there are positive spillovers outside of school, such that safer neighborhoods with fewer negative distractions improve student performance. It could be that in richer districts, student quality is higher, in the sense that fewer special needs children free up resources to improve instruction for everyone else. And it could be that in richer districts, student quality is higher in the sense that parental income and education are higher, and as recent research has shown, high parental income and educational attainment levels are closely related to investment in early childhood education, which is critical for later educational performance.
In fact, many of the above are involved. Matt says:
The public school system, by its nature, is very fragmented so lots of positive steps donâ€™t help most kids and so you just kind of need to spoon more and more stuff on the plate.
And this is right. More resources and reform in under-performing districts are going to be necessary. So are interdistrict transfers, and housing vouchers to generate interdistrict movement of households. So is intensive universal pre-K.
There are plenty of things we don’t know about how to improve education. On the other hand there are plenty of things we do know about how to improve student performance, and there’s not really any excuse for not doing them.