School Choice: The Proof

school choice the proof is in the pudding.jpg

The Voice has long argued that all students deserve easy access to personalized and adaptive instruction and that a monolithic one-size-fits-all public school system does not, and cannot, provide that.

We have further argued that the best way to reduce inequality is to expand such broad access to those who lack it (rather than deny it to those who now enjoy it) and that government policies should encourage and reward parents who take an active role in their children’s education (rather than punish them financially for doing so).

Still, some public school administrators and certain political ideologues are adamantly opposed to such school choice proposals. Rather than publicly taking the unsympathetic position that children don’t deserve equality of opportunity or that parents ought not to have special rights in guiding their children’s education, they choose to fight off calls for choice with false claims about the actual results of highly popular school choice programs.

For those without interest in the philosophy of equality and the integrity of the family here is a small sampling of peer-reviewed studies detailing the qualitative benefits of school choice…

Caroline M. Hoxby is professor of economics at Harvard University and a research associate of the National Bureau of Economic Research. She authored “School Choice and School Productivity. Could School Choice Be a Tide that Lifts All Boats?” (link)

I present evidence on three recent choice reforms: vouchers in Milwaukee, charter schools in Michigan, and charter schools in Arizona. In each case, I find that regular public schools boosted their productivity when exposed to competition. In fact, the regular pub- lic schools responded to competitive threats that were surprisingly small. In each case, the regular public schools increased productivity by raising achievement, not by lowering spending while maintaining achievement. This achievement-oriented response may, of course, be related to the nature of the actual reforms. One can summarize the productivity effects of a reform like Milwaukee’s voucher program by noting that a student would have better achievement in five years under the voucher program evenif his peer group plunged by the maximum amount possible in Milwaukee and his achievement fell one-for-one with that of his peer group.

Hoxby is also the author of “School choice and school competition: Evidence from the United States” (link)

Public schools do respond constructively to competition, by raising their achievement and productivity. The best studies on this question examine the introduction of choice programs that have been sufficiently large and long-lived to produce competition. Students’ achievement generally does rise when they attend voucher or charter schools. The best studies on this question use, as a control group, students who are randomized out of choice programs. Not only do currently enacted voucher and charter school programs not cream-skim; they disproportionately attract students who were performing badly in their regular public schools.

Paul Peterson, David Myers and G. William of the Kennedy School of Government looked at the New York City School Choice Scholarships Program (link)

Researchers examined data from scholarship and nonscholarship students’ scores on the Iowa Test in Basic Skills in reading and mathematics and from parent/caretaker surveys regarding their children’s school experiences. Results indicated that after 1 year, students who received scholarships scored higher in math and reading; parents of scholarship users were much more satisfied with their children’s education; scholarship students were being educated in smaller schools and classes and were being asked to do more homework; parents of scholarship students reported more frequent school communications…

Eric A. Hanushek (Senior Fellow at the Hoover Institution of Stanford University) and Steven G. Rivkin (professor of economics at Amherst College) are both research associates of the National Bureau of Economic Research. They co-authored “Does Public School Competition Affect Teacher Quality?” (link)

The empirical analysis has two major components. First, estimates of average school quality differences in metropolitan areas across Texas are compared to the amount of public school competition in each. At least for the largest metropolitan areas, the degree of competition is positively related to performance of the public schools. Second, the narrower impact of metro-politan area competition on teacher quality is investigated. Because teacher quality has been identified as one of the most important determinants of student outcomes, it is logical to believe that the effects of competition on hiring, retention, monitoring, and other personnel practices would be one of the most important aspects of any force toward improving public school quality. The results, although far from conclusive, suggest that competition raises teacher quality and improves the overall quality of education.

This is just a small sampling. A lot more detailed information about the successes of school choice can be found at the Friedman Foundation, the Center of Education Reform, the website of Andrew Coulson, PhD, and School Choice Wisconsin.

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