Four Ways Evidence Shows School Choice Can Help Teachers

From the 11-day teacher’s strike in Chicago, the nation’s third largest public school district, to a looming Statehouse protest in Indiana, teachers and their working conditions are making headlines. Teachers’ unions tend to oppose educational choice policies, but there are several ways expanding choice could actually help teachers. Here are the four big ones.


1. Your employer is likely to do more to retain your talent, like offer higher pay.

People often point out that the current K-12 education system is a monopoly. It is also a monopsony, meaning that a market has only one buyer of goods or services. A monopsony in the teacher labor market implies that fewer teachers will be hired and wages will be lower. Introducing competition is a great way to reverse this effect. For example, teacher salaries tend to increase when public schools face increased competition from school choice programs. This is supported by empirical studies on the effects of competition from school choice on teacher labor markets (for example, see here, here, here, and here). For instance, one study found that increased competition by private schools in Sweden increased teacher wages by about a 1.5 percent in areas with the highest levels of private school competition. Another study found that charter school entry in North Carolina was associated with similar wage increases for teachers in district public schools with high shares of low-income and minority students. It’s modest, but it’s progress.

2. Your class sizes will get smaller.

All else equal, when students exercise choice via private school choice programs, some teachers’ classes will become smaller, which is something that teachers (and parents) want and value. For example, a survey of teachers in Colorado found that 74 percent of respondents wanted smaller classes. A survey of parents indicated that class size was one of the top five reasons for parents choosing private schools and public charter schools. In fact, a cap on class size is one of the demands by the Chicago Teachers Union. It was also a key reason for a teacher’s strike in Los Angeles.

3. Your classes are more likely to be filled with kids who fit well in your schooling environment.

Smaller class size may make a teacher’s job easier. But there’s another more intuitive reason why teaching becomes easier when students leave after the introduction of a choice program – the students leaving are likely doing so because that environment isn’t a good fit. Students who participate in private school choice programs tend to be relatively more disadvantaged among eligible students who are participating. Moreover, studies tend to find students who applied to private school choice programs already have lower test scores, face socioeconomic challenges, and experience more disciplinary incidents. In most cases, teachers are likely to be left not only with a smaller class, but also a group of students who are better matched for that environment. This sorting effect is probably why we see that most empirical studies reveal school choice programs have a positive, albeit modest, effect on public school students’ test scores.

4. More resources could reach your classroom.

Fiscal analyses of private school choice programs show that per-pupil funding increases because our funding systems are not entirely student-based. When students leave a school or district via a choice program, the districts usually retain all local and federal funds. Teachers must stay vigilant, however, about how their district leaders allocate their resources. Analysis by economist Ben Scafidi demonstrates that public school districts in many states tend to favor hiring other staff over full-time teachers. U.S. Department of Education data show that from 1992 to 2014, inflation-adjusted salaries for public school teachers fell by 2 percent at the same time districts chose to hire administrators and all other staff at a rate more than double that of student growth.


An annual survey conducted between 1984 and 2012 ended with teacher satisfaction at an all-time low. The spate of teacher strikes over the last few years seems to reflect this growing dissatisfaction. Given that seemingly fewer and fewer teachers are satisfied with their jobs, educational choice can be part of a remedy for improving work conditions and opportunities for teachers. We know it won’t fix everything. But if we have one more tool in the toolbox that could help, shouldn’t we use it?