NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

THE DEBATE OVER SCHOOL CHOICE STUDIES

November 2, 2005

Five years ago, Caroline Hoxby concluded that cities with lots of streams have more school competition and higher student achievement. The reason, she says is that school districts in metropolitan areas tend to be bounded by waterways. Hence, the more streams a metro area has, the more school districts, leading to competition among them.

In response, Jesse Rothstein of Princeton University says Hoxby's study doesn't hold water. He claims:

  • Hoxby didn't specify how she counted streams; in Fort Lauderdale, for example, she counted five large streams, while he came up with 12.
  • Hoxby did not provide him with data she had used in the study upon his repeated requests; Hoxby explains that the data from the National Center for Education Statistics is restricted.
  • Using his own stream count from government data, Rothstein found a link between stream counts and school performance, but says it was too small to be significant.

The unusual spat has put Hoxby, a prominent economist, in the awkward position of having to defend one of her most influential studies, say observers. Along the way, it has spotlighted the challenges economists face as they study possible solutions to one of the nation's most pressing problems: the poor performance of some public schools. Despite a vast array of statistical tools, economists have had a very hard time coming up with clear answers.

Source: Jon E. Hilsenrath, "Novel Way to Assess School Competition Stirs Academic Row," Wall Street Journal, October 24, 2005.

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