The book Beyond the Classroom, by Laurence Steinberg, suggests that school performance depends on factors that are outside the control of the school. He focuses on the issue of student engagement.
When highly engaged students are in class, they are there emotionally as well as physically. They concentrate on the task at hand, they strive to do their best when tested or called upon...They participate actively in class discussions, think about the material covered in their courses, and genuinely care about the quality of their work. [p. 15]
While the book offers some suggestions for schools that might increase engagement, the general thrust is that student engagement is largely exogenous to the school. Parents and peer groups are major factors.
Because peer groups are important, school choice could be problematic as a solution. Parents who care will seek to put students into schools with other parents who care, which is what happens with neigborhood choice today. However, if there are parents who do not care about their students' educational peer groups, then there is not much that the market is going to do about it.
Thanks to Ezra Fishman, an engaged student, for the pointer.
For Discussion. If Steinberg's view of the nature of the problem in school performance is correct, what are the public policy implications?