NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Choice Of Districts Improves Schools

March 10, 1997

In the debate over school choice, it is sometimes overlooked that parents in certain areas have a choice between public schools if they base their decision of where to settle on the quality of the schools. A new study makes the point that public schools seem to offer better standards when they must compete with one another.

The Harvard study, by researcher Caroline Hoxby, makes these points:

  • Metropolitan areas differ with respect to the ease with which families can select among school districts by moving -- Boston, for example, having 70 school districts within a 30-minute commute from downtown; Miami having only one.
  • A "large increase" in public school choice -- defined as a rise from two to ten in the number of districts conveniently available to the typical family -- lowers per-pupil spending by about $400 or 7 percent.
  • On average, a large increase in public school choice improves the indicators of performance by 5 percent -- in other words, less spending brings greater student achievement.
  • A large increase in public school choice lowers the proportion of students who attend private schools by 6 percentage points, a dramatic change.
  • Nationwide, about 13 percent of students attend private schools.

Prof. Hoxby found that a metropolitan area can obtain the benefits of cross-district competition without experiencing any increase in school segregation.

In another study, she found that a reduction in the power of teachers' unions lowered per-pupil spending while raising indicators of student performance.

If choice among public schools results in such positive benefits, it is reasonable to infer that the benefits would be even greater if choice extended to private schools.

Source: Robert J. Barro (Harvard University and the Hoover Institution), "Can Public Schools Take Competition?" Wall Street Journal, March 10, 1997.


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