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Using lotteries to evaluate schools of choice: Evidence from a national study of charter schools


  • Tuttle, Christina Clark
  • Gleason, Philip
  • Clark, Melissa


This paper draws on data and experiences observing and analyzing school lotteries from the National Evaluation of Charter School Impacts (Gleason et al., 2010) to describe the challenges associated with lottery-based research. In that study, covering 36 charter middle schools in 15 states, we found that charter schools did not affect student achievement or behavior on average, although there was substantial variation across schools. In this paper, we discuss the prevalence of oversubscribed charter schools at the time the study was conducted (the 2005–2006 and 2006–2007 school years), which was lower than commonly reported. We then describe how the sample of schools that participated in the study compared to all other charter middle schools nationwide, to provide some insight into the generalizabilty of findings from lottery-based studies. In general, oversubscribed charter schools were more likely to be located in urban areas and serve a higher-achieving population of students than those without excess demand. We also describe common features of school lotteries and waitlists, and examine implications of these features for a school's ability to support a lottery-based study. Finally, we summarize lessons learned for conducting lottery-based research on charter schools, drawing on our observations of the schools’ lotteries and analysis of the data from these lotteries.

Suggested Citation

  • Tuttle, Christina Clark & Gleason, Philip & Clark, Melissa, 2012. "Using lotteries to evaluate schools of choice: Evidence from a national study of charter schools," Economics of Education Review, Elsevier, vol. 31(2), pages 237-253.
  • Handle: RePEc:eee:ecoedu:v:31:y:2012:i:2:p:237-253
    DOI: 10.1016/j.econedurev.2011.07.002

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Julie Berry Cullen & Brian A Jacob & Steven Levitt, 2006. "The Effect of School Choice on Participants: Evidence from Randomized Lotteries," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 74(5), pages 1191-1230, September.
    2. Will Dobbie & Roland G. Fryer, 2011. "Are High-Quality Schools Enough to Increase Achievement among the Poor? Evidence from the Harlem Children's Zone," American Economic Journal: Applied Economics, American Economic Association, vol. 3(3), pages 158-187, July.
    3. Dee, Thomas S. & Fu, Helen, 2004. "Do charter schools skim students or drain resources?," Economics of Education Review, Elsevier, vol. 23(3), pages 259-271, June.
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    Cited by:

    1. Dennis Epple & Richard Romano & Ron Zimmer, 2015. "Charter Schools: A Survey of Research on Their Characteristics and Effectiveness," NBER Working Papers 21256, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    2. Davis, Devora H. & Raymond, Margaret E., 2012. "Choices for studying choice: Assessing charter school effectiveness using two quasi-experimental methods," Economics of Education Review, Elsevier, vol. 31(2), pages 225-236.
    3. Ana I. Balsa & Alejandro Cid, 2012. "Impact Evaluation of a Privately Managed Tuition-Free Middle school in a Poor Neighborhood in Montevideo," Documentos de Trabajo/Working Papers 1202, Facultad de Ciencias Empresariales y Economia. Universidad de Montevideo..
    4. repec:mpr:mprres:8005 is not listed on IDEAS
    5. Zimmer, Ron & Gill, Brian & Booker, Kevin & Lavertu, Stéphane & Witte, John, 2012. "Examining charter student achievement effects across seven states," Economics of Education Review, Elsevier, vol. 31(2), pages 213-224.
    6. Alexandra Resch & Jillian Berk & Lauren Akers, 2014. "Recognizing and Conducting Opportunistic Experiments in Education: A Guide for Policymakers and Researchers," Mathematica Policy Research Reports b58a999ab27a4cabafac5aa08, Mathematica Policy Research.
    7. Toma, Eugenia & Zimmer, Ron, 2012. "Two decades of charter schools: Expectations, reality, and the future," Economics of Education Review, Elsevier, vol. 31(2), pages 209-212.
    8. repec:eee:ecoedu:v:58:y:2017:i:c:p:43-54 is not listed on IDEAS
    9. repec:bla:ecaffa:v:37:y:2017:i:2:p:182-196 is not listed on IDEAS
    10. Ni, Yongmei & Rorrer, Andrea K., 2012. "Twice considered: Charter schools and student achievement in Utah," Economics of Education Review, Elsevier, vol. 31(5), pages 835-849.
    11. Carruthers, Celeste K., 2012. "New schools, new students, new teachers: Evaluating the effectiveness of charter schools," Economics of Education Review, Elsevier, vol. 31(2), pages 280-292.
    12. Kevin Booker & Brian Gill & Tim Sass & Ron Zimmer, "undated". "Charter High Schools' Effects on Long-Term Attainment and Earnings (Working Paper)," Mathematica Policy Research Reports cfe561a4b1924b7eafb64f918, Mathematica Policy Research.
    13. repec:mpr:mprres:8126 is not listed on IDEAS

    More about this item


    School choice; Charter schools; Lotteries; Randomized control trials;

    JEL classification:

    • I21 - Health, Education, and Welfare - - Education - - - Analysis of Education


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