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Going the Distance

October 24, 2018
Understand the Benefits of a Long Commute to School

Urban Institute and Center on Reinventing Public Education

Many school choice advocates assume that if a student chooses a school, no matter how far from home, the benefits outweigh any drawbacks. But when students opt for far-flung schools, do they always get stronger academic programs, a broader array of school activities, or other benefits? Is it worth it to go the distance?

In this report, we focus on a subgroup of students in Denver, Colorado, whose first-choice schools on their ninth grade applications are far from home. We then consider whether these first choices would give students access to stronger academic outcomes, fewer disciplinary incidents, advanced courses, dual-language programs, or sports or arts programs. We found that this subgroup of Denver students, if they are accepted to their first-choice schools,would attend schools with stronger outcomes, fewer reported disciplinary incidents, and more advanced courses and dual-language programs. Although these students, “super travelers,” would not necessarily need to travel as far as they plan to for any one of these benefits, it is difficult for most of them to find the same bundle of benefits in a school closer to home.

Though far from conclusive, these results suggest a need for continued innovation in increasing access to and minimizing the costs of transportation options and for considering school programs holistically when building and managing schools.

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