The Case for School Choice Is Overwhelming From Every POV Except One

Today marks the start of National School Choice Week (NSCW), an annual event designed to promote awareness of and interest in K-12 educational policies that give parents and students more ways to personalize and individualize their primary and secondary learning experiences. Reason is a proud media partner of NSCW, which has helped to organize over 30,000 events around the country this week. NSCW is agnostic on the form that choice takes—could be charter schools, voucher programs, private-school scholarships, homeschooling, education savings accounts (ESAs), you name it. All that matters is that it put the needs of students front and center.

Go here to find out information about events and activities happening in your area.

Throughout the week, Reason will be publishing articles, commentaries, videos, and podcasts on education policy. Tomorrow, for instance, we'll release an interview with George Mason University economist Bryan Caplan, whose forthcoming book on school policy literally makes the case against education (seriously: His book is called The Case Against Education: Why the Education System Is a Waste of Time and Money). On Tuesday, Reason's policy analyst Lisa Snell will host a panel discussion in Los Angeles with Matthew Ladner of the Charles Koch Institute and Jason Bedrick of EdChoice tacking the "most persistent arguments against school choice and why they're wrong." That event will be livestreamed via Hit and Run and Reason's Facebook page at 6:00 P.M. Pacific Time. John Stossel will be interviewing Eva Moskowitz, whose Success Academy is leading the way in charter-school success in New York City. Later in the week, we'll release a video expose of New York City's practice of paying millions of dollars in tuition to send kids with learning issues to private schools; we'll also publish a fascinating magazine story about the "microschool" movement. Consider it Shark Week, but for education policy.

For past School Choice Week coverage, go here.

For the latest education policy work from analysts at Reason Foundation, the nonprofit that publishes this website, go here.

The title of this post makes the claim that the case for giving students and parents more options for K-12 education is overwhelming. Here's some evidence about choice programs that get students into private schools from A Win-Win Solution: The Empirical Evidence on School Choice, by Greg Forster (Fourth Edition, 2016):

  • Eighteen empirical studies have examined academic outcomes for school choice participants using random assignment, the gold standard of social science. Of those, 14 find choice improves student outcomes: six find all students benefit and eight find some benefit and some are not visibly affected. Two studies find no visible effect, and two studies find Louisiana's voucher program—where most of the eligible private schools were scared away from the program by an expectation of hostile future action from regulators—had a negative effect.
  • Thirty-three empirical studies (including all methods) have examined school choice's effect on students' academic outcomes in public schools. Of those, 31 find choice improved public schools. One finds no visible effect. One finds a negative effect.
  • Twenty-eight empirical studies have examined school choice's fiscal impact on taxpayers and public schools. Of these, 25 find school choice programs save money. Three find the programs they study are revenue neutral. No empirical study has found a negative fiscal impact.
  • Ten empirical studies have examined school choice and racial segregation in schools. Of those, nine find school choice moves students from more segregated schools into less segregated schools, and one finds no net effect on segregation. No empirical study has found that choice increases racial segregation.
  • Eleven empirical studies have examined school choice's effect on civic values and practices, such as respect for the rights of others and civic knowledge. Of those, eight find school choice improves civic values and practices. Three find no visible effect from school choice. No empirical study has found that school choice has a negative effect on civic values and practices.

And when it comes to the ways that charter schools help at-risk students (often minorities in urban areas), it turns out that randomized control trials (RCTs) paint an unambiguous picture of success by basically any measure.

Outside of K-12 education, there is virtually no other good or service for which expanded choices would be considered a bad thing. Even absent abundant empirical evidence, it makes sense that choice is good, especially given that students are forced to attend school. When it comes to food or medicine, no one would stand for being forced to patronize this or that supermarket or doctor based on residential addresses. Letting students sort and match among competing providers is not simply a pragmatic goal but a moral one that allows individuals to reach their potential more easily. The only perspective that holds otherwise comes from those who benefit from a status quo that costs more and more money while returning flat or declining outcomes.

Over the coming week, we'll be laying out a comprehensive case for exponentially increasing school choice. In the meantime, here's a presentation that Lisa Snell and I gave in 2016 about ways to curb public education abuses.