NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Parental Choice Forces Public Schools To Compete

April 20, 2001

As parents gain the right to select which schools their children attend, personnel at traditional public schools find they must think competitively in order to retain students -- and the public funds they bring.

Sometimes competition means no more than inviting parents to a chili dinner and handing out door prizes, as one Milwaukee public school did. Or producing infomercials and advertising in movie theaters. Or sending several teachers skydiving at an aviation show to get publicity. Critics say such ploys amount to no more than catering to the lowest common denominator.

Their challenge grows as the school choice movement spreads.

  • The number of students enrolled in public schools of choice jumped by 2.5 million from 1993 to 1999 -- a 50 percent increase.
  • Today, at least one in four American children attends a school other than the one nearest home -- which includes the 10 percent in private schools.
  • Parents who choose schools are, reportedly, more satisfied than they were before choice -- and while their children's test scores often rise, there is little data on improvements in districts or systems as a whole.
  • Evidence of academic progress comes from Lee County, Fla., where 26 of the 57 schools improved their grades in a statewide evaluation just after the first year of choice -- although the grades of four others declined and 27 others held steady, including four with A's.

Source: Jodi Wilgoren, "Schools Are Now Marketers Where Choice Is Taking Hold," New York Times, April 20, 2001.


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