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Busting the Myths About School Choice


Q. I have a close relative who is a teacher, who I really admire. But she says school choice would weaken public schools and would end up hurting education more than helping it. What's the evidence?


Actually, school choice not only improves educational progress of the students who attend the schools of their choice because of the program, but research consistently shows that school choice programs result in improved performance in the corresponding public schools. Why? Because the public schools are forced to make their services more competitive to respond to the loss of enrollment they sustain when students elect to enroll in private schools.


Studies include a look at the impact of Florida's "A-Plus" choice program, which showed that the public schools which lost students to school-choice programs actually did significantly better on the next year's standardized tests compared to Florida public schools that did not lose students to school choice disenrollment.


The same finding was reported by Harvard economist Caroline Hoxby, studying the Milwaukee voucher program. The affected public schools, which lost students to school choice programs, did significantly better than public schools in the area that did not have voucher competition.


Similar studies of school-choice programs and the impact on neighboring public schools in Maine and Vermont confirmed these findings. Researchers have included Marcus Winters, Martin West, Paul Peterson, and Rajashri Chakrabarti.


Apparently there is not a single study that has shown that school-choice voucher programs has harmed the local public schools. So that is powerful evidence to use with your relative.


Note that the federally-funded Center for Analysis of Longitudinal Data in Education Research (CALDER) housed at the Urban Institute released an analysis of the effect of competitive pressure from Florida's Opportunity Scholarship voucher program on the performance of students who remain in traditional public schools. 


Some educators claim that students who go to private schools on voucher programs don't do any better than if they had stayed in the public school. Or, they claim, the evidence is inconclusive. But that's not true, and the studies are plentiful that show that the benefits of school choice are exciting and encouraging. For example, according to researcher Joshua Cowen writing recently in Policy Studies Journal, reviewing student test scores in Charlotte, N.C., academic achievement gains are real, and significant, with school choice.


Still other false claims about school choice are thoroughly debunked the book listed in "Homework," below:


         It is not true that school choice programs "cream" the easiest-to-teach students away from the public schools;


         It is not true that private schools have more money to spend and that's why their test scores are higher;


         It is not true that private schools can expel low-performing students more easily than public schools.;


         It is not true that private schools refuse to serve disabled students and that's why their test scores are higher than public schools;


         It is not true that private schools inculcate students with selfishness and elitism and don't teach tolerance of diversity and civic participation as well as public schools;


         It is not true that school choice promotes racial segregation - actually, the private schools into which many students go because of school-choice voucher programs are much more racially integrated than the public schools they leave.



Homework: Jay P. Greene successfully rebuts these myths in his book Education Myths: What Special-Interest Groups Want You to Believe About Our Schools - And Why It Isn't So.


By Susan Darst Williams Choice & Charters 03 2008***

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