NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


October 20, 2008

Competition from private schools improves achievement for both public and private school students and decreases the amount spent per pupil, according to a new multi-national study by the Hoover Institution.

Using data from the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) Program for International Student Assessment (PISA), researchers gathered information on the mathematical, scientific and reading literacy of nearly 22,000 students in 29 countries.  They were also able to obtain PISA information on student background characteristics and reports on the characteristics of each student's school, including school resources and whether the school was public or private.

Researchers found that competitive pressures from private schools broadly increase the productivity of school systems:

  • A 10 percent increase in enrollment in private schools improves PISA math test scores by more than nine percent of a standard deviation, nearly equal to a half a year's worth of learning.
  • For science and reading, a 10 percent increase in private school enrollment generates an improvement of more than five percent of a standard deviation -- more than one-fifth of a grade level.
  • In educational spending, a 10 percent increase in the private school enrollment leads to a $3,209 reduction in spending per student -- on average, more than 5 percent of the total education spending per student through age 15 for OECD countries.
  • In the Netherlands, more than three-quarters of 15-year-old students attend privately operated schools; about 50 percent of students attend private schools in Belgium, Ireland and Korea, while only 5 percent attend private schools in Greece, Iceland, Italy, New Zealand, Norway, Poland, Sweden and Turkey.
  • Just over 6 percent of the Americans sampled attended private schools.

Moreover, these results suggest that public school students profit nearly as much from increased private school competition as do a nation's students as a whole, and that school systems are more efficient if they are more competitive.

Source: Editorial, "As Presidential Debate Highlights Need for Competition in U.S. Public Education, First-Ever Multi-National Study Shows Competition from Private Schools Improves Achievement for Both Public and Private School Students," Hoover Institution, October 16, 2008; Martin West and Ludger Woessmann, "School Choice International," Hoover Institution, October 16, 2008.

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