Friedman: School Choice is Effective

In reaction to our survey of Iowa voters, the University of Iowa’s independent student newspaper, The Daily Iowan, cast out some enticing bait in Jon Overton’s editorial “School choice isn’t effective”:

“School choice is an insidiously popular option for trying to reform the education system. People like to think they’re in control, especially parents. And what better way to gain votes than for lawmakers to help rescue innocent children from the seemingly diabolical clutches of American public schools?”

We’ll bite.

If parents only “think” they are in control, who does Mr. Overton think is, or should be, in control of America’s children? Parents know their children better than anyone else and, therefore, are in the best position to know what educational options work for them—whether that be public, private, charter, or home school. And there are many great public schools that fit many students perfectly, but it is fanciful to think all the ZIP Code-assigned public schools are appropriate for every one of the 55,235,000 K-12 students in America.

“But at the same time, it hurts “failing” schools…. Granted, this model is supposed to increase competition to improve education, but it does so by kicking the ones who are down while giving a leg up to those who have an advantage. It makes no sense and unsurprisingly, it doesn’t appear to work.”

Not one empirical study shows school choice has a negative impact on public schools. 

In fact, the 2007 Economic Policy Institute (EPI) study Mr. Overton cites says “it confirms the earlier results showing a large improvement in Milwaukee [public schools] in the two years following the 1998 [voucher] expansion.” The study also shows that none of those gains were lost. The reason those public schools did not continue to significantly improve at the same levels year to year could be from any number of factors, one of which could be those schools becoming comfortable with a post-voucher status quo.

Beyond that, 22 of the 23 empirical studies of the academic effects of school choice programs on public schools consistently find that school choice improves them. (One study of the D.C. program found there was no positive or negative effect on public schools. To clarify, the D.C. program is the only in the country to compensate public schools for funds lost caused by departing voucher students, effectively giving schools more money to teach fewer kids and eliminating any chance of competitive pressure. Proof in itself.)

More kids achieve better with choice.

  • A 2010 empirical study found that students who had been selected randomly to receive vouchers graduated at a rate of 82 percent, which was 12 percentage points higher than students randomly selected not to receive vouchers. Even better, students who actually used the vouchers had graduation rates that were 21 percentage points higher.

Parents are more satisfied. 

  • In the case of education savings accounts in Arizona, 100 percent of parents said they were satisfied with the choice program, whereas only 43 percent were happy with their previous public schools.

Boiled down, all the available research to date has shown school choice isn’t just nice or common sense, it works.

Mr. Overton had us, but without a stronger case, he’ll have to cut the line.