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School Choice, Achievement on the Rise Under Bloomberg, Report Says

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The Brown Center on Education Policy at the Brookings Institution recently released a new paper analyzing the growth of school choice under the tenure of New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

Since Bloomberg has been in office, charters have grown from a mere 22 schools in 2003 to 159 in the 2012-13 school year, says the paper, written by Grover J. 'Russ' Whitehurst and Sarah Whitfield.

In addition to encouraging and allowing for the growth of charters, Bloomberg also implemented a universal enrollment system for high schoolers, requiring incoming freshmen to choose their top 12 schools and using an algorithm to place students in schools of their choice.

Throughout this time, the Washington-based think tank found, students in New York City also began improving their state test scores, graduation rates, and scores on national benchmark assessments like NAEP.

It is impossible to know whether those improvements were a direct result of the expanded school choice in the district, the authors say. "We cannot rule out or account for the influence of out-of-school factors or other policy changes within the schools," the report says. "School reform in the city has been a soupy mix in which the ingredients blend together and are influenced by cultural and economic contexts."

But research such as the studies done by Stanford University's Center for Research on Education Outcomes suggest that charter schools may be at least in part responsible for the uptick in student achievement, the report states.

As the mayoral race in New York heats up, many charter advocates are worried that the growth that school choice has seen under Bloomberg will come to a halt under the next mayor—with good reason. Mayoral frontrunner Bill de Blasio has expressed concerns about the growth of charters and has said he does not believe in co-location, a controversial practice that allows charter schools to share facilities with regular public schools there.

In fact, thousands of charter school supporters gathered to rally for school choice in the city last week. The Brookings paper's authors also argue for the continued support of school choice and even provide suggestions on ways to further increase school choice such as by doing away with residential preferences for school assignments and creating a universal enrollment system for all grades.

But if de Blasio's statements hold true, it seems unlikely that he will heed these suggestions. 

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