Impact of a Public School Lottery in the United States


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Lottery winners experienced mixed results in terms of test scores, college enrollment, and degree completion depending on their gender and race. White, female lottery winners had higher test scores than white females who lost the lottery. However, black, Hispanic, and multiracial male and female students and white male students did not experience gains in educational outcomes.

Test scores: On average, lottery winners did not have higher test scores compared to lottery losers. However, white girls who won the lottery had test scores about 15 percentage points higher than lottery losers. Findings suggest that test scores among lottery winners in other groups including white boys, and black, Hispanic, and multiracial boys and girls may have been unaffected.

Additionally, students with parents who placed greater weight on high-performing schools when selecting their top three choices saw increases in test scores of about 0.1 standard deviations.

Parents’ school preferences differed by race and socioeconomic status, and 20 percent of parents selected schools that had lower test scores than the neighborhood school. Black families placed greater weight on schools with more students of color (which on average tend to have lower test scores) and students saw declines in test scores. Results suggest that this is because parents of higher socioeconomic status were more likely to select strong performing schools. However, families of color had to choose between their preferences for higher-testing schools and schools with a majority of students of color which may have been interpreted as a better social match for their children.

College enrollment and degree completion: Students who won the lottery to attend their first-choice school were about 4 percentage points more likely to enroll and earn degrees from a selective four-year college compared to lottery losers. This translates to a 40 and 60 percent increase in college enrollment and degree completion respectively when compared to lottery losers. The impacts on enrollment and degree completion were driven almost entirely by female lottery winners, who were almost 17 percentage points more likely to attend a four-year college than female lottery losers. Girls were also 14 percentage points more likely to earn a degree from a four-year college while boys did not experience such gains. The finding on girls’ performance is in line with other studies, which also found greater impacts for girls.2 These studies found that girls may have better coping mechanisms, responses to stressful new environments, and exert greater effort than boys in academically challenging environments.

These findings suggest that such results are possible if students have access to higher-quality schools when selecting schools.

Overall, the public school choice plan at CMS primarily only had positive test score effects for white girls who gained admission to their first-choice school. However, gains in test scores seemed dependent on school preferences which differed by parents’ race and socioeconomic status. In those cases, the public school choice plan may widen rather than narrow the achievement gap.

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