Summarizing the Research on School Choice


(Guest post by Greg Forster)

OCPA has published a new policy brief by yours truly, summarizing the research on school choice. For example, on academic effects:

Academic effects may be the most important empirical question we ask about school choice. At one time, it was by far the most hotly debated, whereas today it is much less frequently mentioned by opponents of choice. Having been in the school choice movement since 2002, I can remember when we constantly heard claims that “there’s no evidence school choice actually helps kids learn” or “the research on outcomes is mixed.” Such claims were a primary focus in the 2005 book Education Myths, which I co-wrote. We almost never hear that kind of thing now, because the research on academic outcomes is so consistently positive.

Readers of JPGB will recognize the concern in this paragraph:

Most of these studies examine test scores, although a handful look at other metrics such as high-school graduation rates and college attendance rates. Recent research has called into question the value of test scores as a measurement of academic outcomes. This research finds little or no connection between improvements in K-12 test scores and improvements in long-term life outcomes, in contrast to high-school graduation and college enrollment (which do seem to be more strongly associated with long-term life outcomes). This limitation is worth keeping in mind.

The brief also looks at the research on fiscal effects and civic concerns (segregation and good citizenship).

You may recall there was some, er, confusion recently in Oklahoma when some local academics published a summary of the research on choice that was, er, less than fully accurate.

Let me know what you think!

5 Responses to Summarizing the Research on School Choice

  1. George Mitchell says:

    Your resilience and persistence, along with Matt, Jay, Pat, Corey, Jason, and several others, is appreciated. My exposure to “school choice wars” dates to the 90s in Wisconsin. Slowly, ever so slowly, the evidence is gaining traction. The honesty of researchers in not overstating gains and acknowledging “setbacks” is admirable. I was laughably naive in underestimating the resistance of the K-12 establishment.

    • Greg Forster says:

      You weren’t alone. Time after time Milton thought he was finally about to see the big breakthrough, and he was wrong every time. He just had too much faith in democracy.

      • George Mitchell says:

        The 300% poverty income cap shows how entrenched the idea is that choice must be targeted to the poor and “working class.” We saw that as a necessary concession to gain initial approval. We hoped — and still do — that parents shut out will eventually prevail and lead to a universal program. Not gonna happen soon.

  2. Mike G says:

    Thanks for laying out the research. One question: is there an empirically valid way to express the savings as “different spending” instead of taxpayer savings?

    What I mean is: if one goal is to expand political support for school choice, I wonder if more liberal voters would be convinced by something like (all #s entirely made up for illustration purposes only):

    “In Wisconsin, saving $100 million on school spending through the voucher program, it’s worth noting that W State was able to extend Medicaid coverage for poor families by $70 million, and Milwaukee created a new $28 million program to reduce homelessness. While there was not a direct cause and effect – nobody said “We’re saving X so we’re spending Y – this is a concrete example of where savings went (i.e., not to tax cuts).”

    • Greg Forster says:

      I hear what you’re saying, but political realities don’t usually work out that way. 1) Much of the savings is often local, not state, so there’s no big central pot of money. 2) If the same bill created a school choice program and also directed where the money saved would go, that would usually make it harder rather than easier to pass the bill, since you’d have to fight over how the money was spent. That. Means there’s no direct relationship between the choice program and some other spending item. Of course, advocates can still make the case in a more general way. 3) Pitching the argument more for progressives drives conservatives out of the coalition at least as much as it brings progressives in – and in fact these days most state governments are GOP controlled.

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