Gender and Performance: Evidence from School Assignment by Randomized Lottery

School choice programs lead to greater improvements in test scores for white girls than other groups.


School choice programs allow parents with children in under-performing public schools to choose a different school for their child. The goal is to improve student achievement through better student-school matches. While previous studies on school choice programs have found little to no effect on academic performance, there is now increasing evidence that this intervention has a different effect on girls as it does on boys. In this study, the authors disaggregate the data based on gender to study a public school choice program in North Carolina, evaluating the impact of attending a first-choice school on academic outcomes.


Though there was no overall academic achievement gain among students who attended their first-choice school, subgroups were impacted in different ways. Specifically:

  • White females experienced significant improvements in test scores after gaining attendance to their first-choice school.
  • Test score improvements reflected the tendency of white girls’ parents to select better performing schools, than did their male counterparts’ parents. Note that overall, white students’ parents were more likely to select better performing schools as a whole – although lottery winners tended to pick non-academic magnet schools, white girls were less likely to attend those. There was a slight decline in test scores for girls of color who won the lottery, possibly due to this choice; for other demographic groups there was no significant difference in test scores.
  • White females experienced a 50% increase in time spent on homework as a result of the program; there was no corresponding increase for non-white females or boys of any race.
  • All girls (white and non-white) had fewer unexcused absences as a result of the program.

In short, the results suggest that parents of white females chose academically focused schools, where their daughters expended more effort on academics, and as a result experienced significant improvements.


North Carolina’s Charlotte-Mecklenburg school district in the United States introduced district-wide public school choice in the fall of 2002. Parents submitted their top three choices of school programs for each child. This study focuses on students whose admission to their first-choice school was determined solely by lottery. The study is based on data from a sample of 6,931 students. The authors of the study used administrative data on demographics, school attended, absences, suspensions, and grade retention. The authors also used North Carolina End of Grade reading and math scores. Testing in North Carolina included student self-reports on the number of hours spent on homework each week.

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