Education Next: Research Shows Choice Raises Student Performance in Public School Districts

Monday, November 26, 2001

Research conducted by Hoover distinguished visiting fellow and Harvard economist Caroline Hoxby has answered critics who claim school choice bleeds traditional public schools of their best students. In a recent study published in the new issue of Education Next: A Journal of Opinion and Research, Hoxby found that competition from school choice improved public schools' academic performance.

Hoxby's study shows that all schools perform better in areas where there is vigorous competition among public and private schools. She found that areas with many low-cost private school choices score near 3 national percentile points higher in 8th grade reading and math, and near 4 national percentile points higher in 12th grade reading and math.

"Both traditional forms of choice—choice among school districts and between public and private schools—influence public schools in a positive manner," writes Hoxby. "If every school in the nation were to face a high level of competition both from other districts and from private schools, the productivity of America's schools, in terms of students' level of learning at a given level of spending, would be 28 percent higher than it is now."

In order to isolate instances where competition was lively and long standing enough to potentially provoke a competitive response from public schools, Hoxby's study focused on charter schools in Arizona and Michigan and the voucher program in Milwaukee where school choice reforms have existed for a sustained period.

"Taken together, the findings presented here, from Milwaukee, Arizona, and Michigan, offer a first glimpse at how public schools are responding to these new forms of school choice," writes Hoxby. "They suggest that the fears of 'skimming' or 'creaming' aren't merely overblown. They're simply wrong."

Hoxby's findings are part of the contents in the winter 2001 issue of Education Next. In addition to Hoxby's article, the issue explores a number of other topics in the education debate, including a new study by John H. Bishop of Cornell University on curriculum-based exit exams.

Based on analysis of data collected by the 1995 Third International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) of students in forty countries, Bishop has found curriculum-based exit exams do raise achievement.

"Students from countries with medium- and high-stakes exit examination systems outperform students from other countries at a comparable level of economic development by 1.3 U.S. grade-level equivalents in science and by 1.0 U.S. grade-level equivalents in mathematics," writes Bishop, adding that "the data show that curriculum-based exams are associated with neither higher teacher-pupil ratios nor greater spending on K–12 education."

Education Next is a new voice in American education committed to looking at hard evidence about school reform. It is both a scholarly journal that provides the latest in policy-relevant research findings and an opinion magazine where documentation counts.

Education Next is published by the Hoover Institution. Other sponsoring institutions are the Harvard Program on Education Policy and Governance, the Thomas B. Fordham Foundation, and the Manhattan Institute for Policy Research. The editors of Education Next include Hoover fellow Paul E. Peterson, editor in chief; Hoover distinguishing visiting fellow Chester E. Finn Jr.; Jay Greene, senior fellow, Manhattan Institute; and Marci Kanstoroom, research director, Thomas B. Fordham Foundation.

Members of the Hoover Institution's Koret Task Force make up the editorial board of the journal. In addition to Peterson and Finn, task force members include Hoover fellows Williamson M. Evers, Eric Hanushek, and Terry Moe and Hoover distinguished visiting fellows John E. Chubb, Paul Hill, E. D. Hirsch Jr., Caroline Hoxby, Diane Ravitch, and Herbert J. Walberg.

The Koret Task Force is an elite team of scholars specializing in education reform who have been brought together by Hoover director John Raisian to address the national debate over public education. As part of Hoover's American Public Education Initiative, members of the Koret Task Force have been charged with analyzing the current state of public education and finding possibilities for meaningful reform.

The Hoover Institution, founded at Stanford University in 1919 by Herbert Hoover, who went on to become the 31st president of the United States, is an interdisciplinary research center for advanced study on domestic public policy and international affairs.