Boston Study Proves Success of Charter Schools

It is often the brilliant work of a policy analyst that influences innovation in our society and provides the tangible evidence that establishes or discredits policy. The MIT economist Parag Pathak is a wonderful example of the influence that analysts can have in today’s political realm. His work in the fields of economics and education, and market design and school choice, have been profoundly influential in today’s raging school choice debate. Accordingly, he has recently been awarded the John Bates medal for the best young economist, largely due to his research featured in the study Accountability and Flexibility in Public Schools: Evidence from Boston’s Charters and Pilots. This study is a thorough proof of the success of charter schools when compared to traditional public schools and pilot schools, and has greatly impacted the charter school market in Boston.

An interesting aspect of Pathak’s accountability study is the method used to control for one of the most problematic aspects of statistically measuring the success of school choice. Even if, in the comparison of a charter school and a traditional public-school student, a study controls for such variables as economic background, intelligence level, etc., it remains a difficult task to account for the difference in motivation (from the student or the family) that first led to the student’s interest in alternative education. To account for such motivation, Pathak’s study used charter schools with lottery admissions and an overflowing application pool so that some students were rejected, then took the rejected students, controlled for all other variables, and compared them to their peers who had been admitted. Hence, the conjugate student pairs were intricately equivalent and unbiased in comparison.

Though Pathak’s research can become quite complex, its importance is undeniable, and I encourage any interested readers (especially any “policy nerds” with an affinity for economics) to check out his other works, which can be found here. I know that, in between my readings of Go Dog Go and Dr. Seuss, I’ll be making some time in my schedule to do so.