“The effectiveness of public schools in developing engaged citizens has rarely been examined empirically,” notes a new Mathematica report on the impact on civic participation of Democracy Prep, a network of charter schools that educates more than 5,000 students, mostly in New York City. Perhaps not, but it’s certainly been assumed. We remain sentimentally attached to a gauzy myth of the American common school ideal and its presumed role in citizen-making, even without evidence of its effectiveness.
The number of Democracy Prep alumni who are of voting age is relatively small. Founded in 2006, and with 22 schools in five cities, the network only graduated its first class in 2013. But Mathematica’s study, using the most conservative interpretation of its data, found that “Democracy Prep increases the voter registration rates of its students by about 16 percentage points and increases the voting rates of its students by about 12 percentage points.” As a summary from the American Enterprise Institute notes, “the raw numbers were even stronger, a 24-point increase in both, which suggest Democracy Prep doubled its students’ likelihood to register and vote.”