How does school choice affect students’ academic performance?

Test scores can only tell us so much about a child’s schooling experience. But if we look at test scores only, the vast majority of random assignment studies—the gold-standard method in social science—find school choice programs help improve students’ academic performance, especially over time.The studies that have found negative effects typically reflect only the first year or two of participating students’ test scores in their new schools.

Other credible non-random assignment studies also back up this trend.

In summary, we know:

  1. These trends are normal when students switch schools, whether they are switching from public school to public school or public to private.
  2. School choice students tend to be among the most academically behind students in their public schools before using choice programs.
  3. Their private schools of choice tend to turn their performance around in three to four years on average.

At the end of the day, researchers agree that more longitudinal studies are required to make any sweeping claims about school choice policies’ long-term effects on students. Most studies also find that school choice drives competition among schools, and public schools respond well to that pressure. Students who remain in public schools improve, too.

Lastly, test scores aren’t the only measure of a successful education—in public schools or private schools. Children excel in different areas and learn at different paces. School choice is about opening more opportunities for kids to find the right fit for their learning needs.

For a fully cited list of studies, visit our school choice research bibliography page.