Why choice helps public schools

Some people have taken me to task for saying that school choice initiatives would help benefit our county schools as well as those who take their children elsewhere. They claim that school choice makes the government schools suffer and harms the children who stay there, and the only ones who benefit are the ones who end up going to private school. Well, a new study, reported in the San Diego Union-Tribune, demonstrates the benefits of school choice on those who remain in the government schools. Some highlights:

The fact that choice benefits public schools–not just students who switch to private schools–is a key aspect of school choice. Because public schools improve due to competition, school choice benefits reach beyond those students who take advantage of the opportunity to attend a private school with a voucher or tax credit scholarship. Because competition forces both public and private schools to improve, choice is like a rising tide that lifts all boats. Even students whose parents don’t shop around for a private school will benefit because their existing public schools will get better.

It’s true that some studies have shown no productivity gains for public schools when choice is introduced. But these have examined programs where choice is limited to only a small number of students or where the program is too new for effects to be visible. Hoxby, in contrast, looked at those programs that have existed for a while and which are large enough to produce real competition.

In Milwaukee, for example (where children receive vouchers worth up to $5,783), the improvement in the public schools has been impressive. Students in public schools where at least two-thirds of students were eligible for vouchers scored 8.1, 13.8, and 8.0 national percentile rank points higher in math, science, and language, respectively. Although still positive, achievement gains were somewhat smaller for students in public schools, where fewer students were eligible for vouchers.

The story in Michigan and Arizona is similar. In both states, public schools raised achievement in response to competition. The largest achievement gains were in those public schools that faced the most competition.

Read the article online here.

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