School Choice Programs Can Dramatically Improve Schools, Report Says

A survey of research published on school choice programs shows that they improve the academic performance of both those who take advantage of the program and public school students, cost less, reduce racial segregation, and do not diminish shared civic values and practices, according to a new report from The Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice.

The report looked at all the available methodologically appropriate empirical studies on school choice that addressed five questions: Do school choice programs improve the academic performance of program participants? Do school choice programs harm the academic performance of public school students who do not take advantage of the program? Do school choice programs save taxpayers money? Do school choice programs lead to more or less racial segregation? And do school choice programs harm the opportunity to enhance a shared sense of civic values through public schools?

The report is the third edition and updates the second edition with research conducted since 2009.

The report found 11 studies showing that school choice programs improve the academic performance of participants and one study showing no effect on academic performance. No studies showed a decrease in academic performance for program participants.

Twenty-two studies found that the academic performance of public schools improved in areas that had school choice programs. One study showed no visible impact on public school academic outcomes and no studies showed that school choice programs had a negative effect on public schools.

Six studies compared the cost of school choice programs to school districts without school choice. All six found that school choice programs save taxpayers money.

One of the concerns raised by critics of school choice programs is that they will lead to greater racial segregation. Parents will take advantage of the programs to send their kids to racially homogeneous schools, they argue. Studies show, though, that school choice programs have the opposite effect. Seven studies have shown that school choice programs lead to less racial segregation in schools. Only one study showed no effect on racial segregation and no studies have shown that school choice increases racial segregation.

Since Americans tend to live in racially segregated neighborhoods and public school students are assigned to schools based upon where they live, school choice programs break down the racial segregation of the public schools, the report reasons.

Another concern raised by school choice critics is that an increase in private school education will diminish opportunities to build a shared sense of civic virtue. Seven studies have looked at civic knowledge and tolerance for opposing views among school choice program students. Five of those studies showed that tolerance and civic knowledge was higher for school choice students. The other two studies showed no impact on tolerance and civic knowledge. No studies have shown a negative effect.

All six of the empirical studies on the cost of school choice programs show that they cost less than a traditional public school system. Two of those studies are comprehensive – they study every school choice program in the nation for every year they have been in existence.

Since there is a potential selection bias to school choice programs – those who take advantage could also be those who are more likely to perform well in public schools – the report only included the academic studies that used a random sample and controlled for a potential selection bias for all the questions except the one on civic virtue. Few studies have looked at whether school choice diminished civic virtue, so some studies were included that did not use a random sample.

The Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice was founded by the late Milton and Rose D. Friedman, both of whom were Nobel Prize winning economists. Besides their advocacy of school choice, they were well known for their defense of free market capitalism.

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