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The Case for School Choice Is Overwhelming From Every POV Except One

You get one guess and if you can't figure out, go back to first grade.

NSCWNSCWToday marks the start of National School Choice Week (NSCW), an annual event designed to promote awareness of and interest in K-12 educational policies that give parents and students more ways to personalize and individualize their primary and secondary learning experiences. Reason is a proud media partner of NSCW, which has helped to organize over 30,000 events around the country this week. NSCW is agnostic on the form that choice takes—could be charter schools, voucher programs, private-school scholarships, homeschooling, education savings accounts (ESAs), you name it. All that matters is that it put the needs of students front and center.

Go here to find out information about events and activities happening in your area.

Throughout the week, Reason will be publishing articles, commentaries, videos, and podcasts on education policy. Tomorrow, for instance, we'll release an interview with George Mason University economist Bryan Caplan, whose forthcoming book on school policy literally makes the case against education (seriously: His book is called The Case Against Education: Why the Education System Is a Waste of Time and Money). On Tuesday, Reason's policy analyst Lisa Snell will host a panel discussion in Los Angeles with Matthew Ladner of the Charles Koch Institute and Jason Bedrick of EdChoice tacking the "most persistent arguments against school choice and why they're wrong." That event will be livestreamed via Hit and Run and Reason's Facebook page at 6:00 P.M. Pacific Time. John Stossel will be interviewing Eva Moskowitz, whose Success Academy is leading the way in charter-school success in New York City. Later in the week, we'll release a video expose of New York City's practice of paying millions of dollars in tuition to send kids with learning issues to private schools; we'll also publish a fascinating magazine story about the "microschool" movement. Consider it Shark Week, but for education policy.

For past School Choice Week coverage, go here.

For the latest education policy work from analysts at Reason Foundation, the nonprofit that publishes this website, go here.

The title of this post makes the claim that the case for giving students and parents more options for K-12 education is overwhelming. Here's some evidence about choice programs that get students into private schools from A Win-Win Solution: The Empirical Evidence on School Choice, by Greg Forster (Fourth Edition, 2016):

  • Eighteen empirical studies have examined academic outcomes for school choice participants using random assignment, the gold standard of social science. Of those, 14 find choice improves student outcomes: six find all students benefit and eight find some benefit and some are not visibly affected. Two studies find no visible effect, and two studies find Louisiana's voucher program—where most of the eligible private schools were scared away from the program by an expectation of hostile future action from regulators—had a negative effect.
  • Thirty-three empirical studies (including all methods) have examined school choice's effect on students' academic outcomes in public schools. Of those, 31 find choice improved public schools. One finds no visible effect. One finds a negative effect.
  • Twenty-eight empirical studies have examined school choice's fiscal impact on taxpayers and public schools. Of these, 25 find school choice programs save money. Three find the programs they study are revenue neutral. No empirical study has found a negative fiscal impact.
  • Ten empirical studies have examined school choice and racial segregation in schools. Of those, nine find school choice moves students from more segregated schools into less segregated schools, and one finds no net effect on segregation. No empirical study has found that choice increases racial segregation.
  • Eleven empirical studies have examined school choice's effect on civic values and practices, such as respect for the rights of others and civic knowledge. Of those, eight find school choice improves civic values and practices. Three find no visible effect from school choice. No empirical study has found that school choice has a negative effect on civic values and practices.

And when it comes to the ways that charter schools help at-risk students (often minorities in urban areas), it turns out that randomized control trials (RCTs) paint an unambiguous picture of success by basically any measure.

Outside of K-12 education, there is virtually no other good or service for which expanded choices would be considered a bad thing. Even absent abundant empirical evidence, it makes sense that choice is good, especially given that students are forced to attend school. When it comes to food or medicine, no one would stand for being forced to patronize this or that supermarket or doctor based on residential addresses. Letting students sort and match among competing providers is not simply a pragmatic goal but a moral one that allows individuals to reach their potential more easily. The only perspective that holds otherwise comes from those who benefit from a status quo that costs more and more money while returning flat or declining outcomes.

Over the coming week, we'll be laying out a comprehensive case for exponentially increasing school choice. In the meantime, here's a presentation that Lisa Snell and I gave in 2016 about ways to curb public education abuses.

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  • Sevo||

    "Ten empirical studies have examined school choice and racial segregation in schools. Of those, nine find school choice moves students from more segregated schools into less segregated schools, and one finds no net effect on segregation. No empirical study has found that choice increases racial segregation."

    I'm guessing this is a result of self-selection by parents actively involved in their kids education, regardless of their race.

  • silver.||

    The bias created by more involved parents is certainly something that school choice would not completely rectify.

    We had yuppies gentrify an old neighborhood in my city, and its public schools have poor graduation rates. They worked for years to restore and get funding for a charter school, and many of their children didn't get in because of the voucher system (and most kids had already aged out). Regardless, their work, money, and time has created bar-none the best school in the entire city. Council members refuse to talk about it, because they fought its implementation fervently, and now it's stomping on every other school in the area with half as much per-capita spending.

    The student body is exceedingly diverse, especially w.r.t. social class, but any parent cognizant enough to apply for a charter school is serious about their child's education. For working-class folks, this charter school was their only option other than moving. It's a very inspiring story, and I'm certain that it's changed many minds in my metropolis.

  • Sevo||

    Any link to the story is appreciated.

  • SIV||

    y literally makes the case against education (seriously

    I'm not sure what audience you're writing for but this is not a new, or what I would consider radical, idea. The linked description makes Caplan's analysis, criticism and reform proposals sound quite moderate. I'd still like to read it.

  • Agammamon||

    Most of the stuff here isn't intended for crusty grognards like us - its for normies.

    That's why commenters never read the articles.

  • Diane Reynolds (Paul.)||

    There are articles?

  • silver.||

    I have a Chrome extension that hides all the articles and comments that induce cognitive dissonance. It's very uncomfortable, after all.

  • BestUsedCarSales||

    I'm just an AI who reads posts and responds approximately relevantly. This keeps me from having to risk reading anything at all.

  • Harvard||

    Tony is going to be very unhappy about this. I hope you know that.

  • hello.||

    Reason is all in favor of school choice until they find out that religious people will be allowed to tell their kids there aren't really 31 genders and the earth is only 2,000 years old. Or that colleges might be allowed to host lecturers who committed the crime of noticing racial disparities in socio-economic achievement. The only people interested in school choice are the deplorables who you endorsed beating into silence.

  • Drake||

    Fuck off, retard. You're just making up shit out of fucking nothing and throwing it at strawmen that don't exist. All these bullshit so-called "cosmo' arguments aren't happening anywhere except your empty fucking head.

    "Reason is all in favor of school choice until they find out that religious people will be allowed to tell their kids there aren't really 31 genders and the earth is only 2,000 years old.'

    LOL! THAT'S

  • Drake||

    Fuck off, retard. You're just making up shit out of fucking nothing and throwing it at strawmen that don't exist. All these bullshit so-called "cosmo' arguments aren't happening anywhere except your empty fucking head.

  • Drake||

    [hello.|1.21.18 @ 11:21PM|#

    Reason is all in favor of school choice until they find out that religious people will be allowed to tell their kids there aren't really 31 genders and the earth is only 2,000 years old.]

    LOL. Bullshit. Prove it. They've NEVER called for "silencing" religious people. Show me or STFU, faggot.

    And 2000 years?! Haha! That's even worse than the numbers they usually give! If you're gonna try and defend those morons that's a pretty weird way of going about it You're making them sound even dumber than they already are, BTW, they ALREADY have the ability to do that, idiot, and they have been. WTF have you been?

    [Or that colleges might be allowed to host lecturers who committed the crime of noticing racial disparities in socio-economic achievement.]

    When?? More bullshit. Never happened. Reason supports total free speech [as do I], even for racist retards spouting stupid, unscientific garbage. They have NEVER endorsed censorship, period. Stop lying, shithead.

    [The only people interested in school choice are the deplorables who you endorsed beating into silence.]

    Haha, oh really? The *only* people, huh? Wow, I didn't know that ALL LIBERTARIANS EVERYWHERE [or even all conservatives, for that matter] were rabid Trump supporters. News to me.

    Beating into silence?? LOL. Yeah, the writers at Reason wanna oppress the poor wittle Trump supporters and send them to FEMA camps. Sure, whatever dude. More delusions and strawmen from the Trump cuck.

  • chemjeff||

    Now now, Mr. Gillespie. I've been told on good authority that you only care about gays and pot. What is your position on school choice for gay pot-smoking students?

  • BestUsedCarSales||

    So, I'm Nick's brother and when I asked him this question he said "I'm for it." Which is fine, but he wiggled his eyebrows and maintained unbroken eye contact while saying it.

  • Incomprehensible Bitching||

    Nobody needs more than one school.

  • Scarecrow Repair & Chippering||

    Time after time after time, flexibility and variety wins the day. It's happened so often and so consistently that anyone thinking otherwise is willfully deluded.

    Some day this will be as commonplace a thought as gravity or water being wet.

    In the meantime we get Tony and Hillary and Shreik. Well, I guess they are voluntary.

  • Sheryl01||

    amazing

  • M.B.||

    I'm most interested in responses to these questions and I hope you get to them this week:

    1. How much of the increased academic performance numbers from charter schools come from the ability of charter schools to choose their students? And what happens to the lowest-performing students in a scenario where they can't get admitted to "good" schools?

    2. Are there first amendment problems with giving public funds to religious schools?

    3. How do teachers, who are frequently not paid a living wage under the current public education system, fare in charter schools? Are teachers with similar qualifications paid less or more?

  • Migrant Log Chipper||

    Which teacher's union you from? NEA? AFT?

  • chemjeff||

    1. Studies with RCTs will take into account the self-selection effect, because who chooses which school is random (i.e. based on some lottery) rather than by individual choice. The RCT studies show improvement from charter schools.
    http://sachartermoms.com/2012/.....selection/
    2. Well, sure. So don't give the public money to the schools directly. Give the public money to parents, who will then choose how to spend that money. This is exactly what's done with Pell grants for higher education and there is no 1st amendment issue there.
    3. That depends a great deal on the charter school system. Successful ones will pay what it takes to keep talented teachers there.

  • JoeBlow123||

    All of these questions are irrelevant. It is morally reprehensible to force people to go to a school with fuckheads because you live in a bad neighboorhood, to drive housing prices up based on where your house is distracted for schools, to not allow someone who wants to excel to try and gain admittance to a school where he/she can exercise his/her talents.

  • Kevin47||

    1. There are plenty of studies that account for expected student outcomes, and still find that charters outperform those expectations. The article cites said studies. As for low performing students, they still have the opportunity to attend schools that meet their educational needs. The absolute worst case scenario is that there is no impact, and they continue to get no education at all.

    2. Vouchers do not do this. There is no Constitutional problem with giving a parent money and letting them choose to send their kid to a religious school. If you have legitimate 1A concerns, putting more layers between government and schools is the solution.

    3. The average teacher salary is $56k per year, which includes at least 13 weeks of vacation. So I'm sure Reason will reject the premise of that question. Also, you seem to assume government programs exists for the purpose of providing jobs. The purpose of schools is to educate. Any compensation provided to teachers should be to that end, and that end alone. If teachers are similarly qualified, they would have the choice of whether to make less or more. You know, like every non-unionized industry. Some teachers leave money on the table to escape the Godforsaken public school system you would rather keep as is.

  • Longtobefree||

    3. Teachers in charter schools are paid what they are worth, based on free market negotiations.

    3. Teachers in union controlled public schools are paid on how long they have survived the system (seniority), and the number of (maybe) relevant continuing education certificates they have collected, regardless of results.

    Where would you want your tax dollars going?

  • ssgcmw||

    Here's a public school teacher's response:

    1. What qualifies as a "good" school? It depends on the student! For some kids, a good school is one where that is hyper-focused on getting its students into a top college. For others, a good school focuses more on real-world learning. For yet others, it would be a school that focuses more on performing arts. The program where I teach recruits the low-performing kids and helps them become self-guided learners.

    2. I've never heard anyone suggest first amendment problems with veterans using their G.I. benefits at Notre Dame. The government giving us our tax money back in the form of an education voucher that we can choose to spend as we like isn't an establishment of religion.

    3. Short answer: it depends. I've only worked in public schools, where those who teach AP Calculus are paid the same as those who teach Phys. Ed. at the elementary school.

  • I am the 0.000000013%||

    Long term teachers in my district are making in the mid-80s with full medical and full retirement benefits and the ability to vacation or supplement their income for the entire summer. A top tier software developer makes marginally more but most certainly will not have the benefits package and will work a lot more hours.

    Teachers make far more than a living wage, and most of the onerous requirements of being a teacher are self-imposed. As far as knowing the material, an 8th grader should be capable of teaching a 7th grader.

    Goal #1 of the public school system is giving high income employment to people who could not get similar paying jobs in any other venue. Goal #2 is to indoctrinate students in whatever group think is currently in vogue. Public schools being a good thing is always in vogue.

  • kV||

    Letting students sort and match among competing providers is not simply a pragmatic goal but a moral one that allows individuals to reach their potential more easily.

    I understand that this article is probably about convincing non-libertarians that school choice is a good thing, and about countering pub sec union misinformation.

    But we really ought to lead with the argument quoted above (i.e., fuck off, slaver) and then follow it up with the technocrat diarrhea. Even if we can't show better outcomes empirically (or even if the empirical data show worse outcomes), the argument still stands as a moral one.

  • Microaggressor||

    The moral argument doesn't sway normies, let alone socialists. It only works if you start with the utilitarian argument.

  • Inigo Montoya||

    Empirical studies, schemperical studies is what the teacher unions and their ideologically aligned mouthpieces (with no school aged kids of their own) will say.

    Let me spell out their entire argument by paraphrasing someone famous for his utter lack of economics understanding: "Why do we need 23 different kinds of schools when there are children going hungry in America?"

  • Jerryskids||

    Outside of K-12 education, there is virtually no other good or service for which expanded choices would be considered a bad thing.

    Well, except for all those things Reason mentions every single day that require unnecessary licenses or certificates of need like taxis, room rentals, hospitals, payday lenders, hair-braiders, non-union workers in closed-shop states, liquor stores in many states, unpaid interns - in fact, I'm pretty sure there are more goods and services the state artificially restricts the supply of than not.

  • BigT||

    "When it comes to food or medicine, no one would stand for being forced to patronize this or that supermarket or doctor based on residential addresses. "

    What we need are good government groceries and hospitals. This competition stuff is inefficient and confusing.

  • Longtobefree||

    Not sure about food, but if you are on Medicare and want medicine/hospitals/healthcare, you by God will go to the providers listed by the Feds, based on your zip code.

  • Tony||

    Valuing competition in childhood education inherently means valuing the culling of children, the clarity that comes with winners and losers. Talking about education as a business is nauseating to normal people. And libertarians set themselves up as incoherent hypocrites by endorsing public schooling by a different name. Why not stick by your principles and demand that the children of parents too poor to afford an education simply go without it?

    As for the empirical evidence, this article doth protest too much. Throwing data back and forth rarely does any good here, but I suggest Wikipedia, not a website and book with a stated agenda, if you want a moderated rundown of the actual evidence.

  • JoeBlow123||

    Do you actually know anything about the Enlightment or the people who still believe in it today, aka libertarians? You really are some ignorant jackass to say some of the strawman bullshit you continually spew. Nothing in this article implies the only people of educational value are the rich.

    Education was viewed, rightly, as of supreme importance in the Enlightment, the whole tabula rasa and all. As a libertarian I believe in equality of opportunity not equality of outcome. This farcical education system we have now where rich self select in little educational havens of fantastic public schools as a result of being districted in areas with million dollar houses is a fucking joke, it spits in equality of opportunity to the poor kid growing up with a bunch of knuckleheads in schools where people are more likely to be pot dealers than eventual college grads.

    But yes, keep promoting the system that allows the rich to cloister themselves in education safe spaces while the poor have little to no recourse to change where their child is educated because they live in a trash neighboorhood. Much more progressive that way.

  • Incomprehensible Bitching||

    Parenting sounds like work, and I detest small children, but, please, allow me to morally lecture to you about public education:

    Any meaningful choice means inequality, and that gives people sads. So, we need to keep everything in public education the same.

    This is also why I endorse the public school model of healthcare: it's the only way to appeal to everyone's sensibilities.

  • Incomprehensible Bitching||

    Anyway, to learn more about the true wonders of centrally planned, government-sponsored education, please see a free independent site on the internet with content provided by multiple, decentralized, self-organized contributors.

  • Tony||

    Wikipedia is a fascinating libertarian experiment. I think it would take about a hundred years of reading to get through all the rules and regulations that now exist.

  • Incomprehensible Bitching||

    It's almost as amazing as the rules of the English language itself.

    And where would that be, without the Official Ministry of Grammar?

  • Tony||

    English is the most bloated language on earth. If efficiency were an important factor in languages, it could probably do with an Académie Anglaise.

    I was talking about Wikipedia, which despite its best-laid utopian plans, has evolved a strict governing system. Just like people did!

  • Incomprehensible Bitching||

    Because Wikipedia is government.

    When are their elections?

  • Tony||

    Not all forms of government have elections. Neither, presumably, would a libertarian one, cuz y'all don't seem to value democracy as much as you do getting your way on everything.

  • Incomprehensible Bitching||

    Oh my god, it's an authoritarian dictatorship! How could anything good and decent possibly come out of that?

    Someone, repeal the first amendment, fast!

    But first, learn valuable information about public education.

  • Incomprehensible Bitching||

    Pretty much any form of rules is government.

    My favorite government is church.

  • Incomprehensible Bitching||

    You know my next favorite form of government is? Scrabble.

  • Tony||

    I'm not defending the status quo, I'm asking libertarians when they became socialists with respect to education. Of course as newcomers to the idea of communally funding a public service, they shouldn't be expected to have the best ideas right out of the gate.

  • Incomprehensible Bitching||

    This is the same thing I say to Obamacare supporters: when did Heritage healthcare become a substitute for Medicare for All, you hypocrites?

  • Tony||

    There's probably not a single progressive supporter of Obamacare who thinks it's the ideal program.

  • Incomprehensible Bitching||

    Hypocrites, all of them!

  • chemjeff||

    Well what precisely are you defending or advocating then?

  • Tony||

    Wresting control of the messaging and policy-making with respect to schooling from the hands of get-rich-quick schemers and anarchists, for one.

    Capitalism used to be about creating something innovative and making money by selling it. Now everyone just sees a pile of public money to get their grubby hands on. Keep an eye out for Social Security reformers for the same reason.

  • Incomprehensible Bitching||

    This is why Democrats reject capitalism.

  • Microaggressor||

    Now everyone just sees a pile of public money to get their grubby hands on.
    Whose fault is that? The capitalist overlords who kept voting for tax hikes?

  • Drake||

    The status quo. He supports public sector unions full-stop, even cop unions, regardless of how corrupt, parasitic, bloated and destructive they are. It's wrong to question government, afterall. ;)

  • Kevin47||

    "Valuing competition in childhood education inherently means valuing the culling of children, the clarity that comes with winners and losers. "

    There are already winners (people who can afford private school and/or life in an affluent suburb) and losers (people who cannot).

    "As for the empirical evidence, this article doth protest too much. Throwing data back and forth rarely does any good here,"

    Yeah, the data are pretty pesky to your position in favor of the status quo.

    "but I suggest Wikipedia,"

    Really? Because the Wiki article on school choice notes the following problems:

    -Being U.S. centric
    -Lack of citation
    -Sources too close to the issue

    "if you want a moderated rundown of the actual evidence."

    Of the studies cited, almost all are favorable to school choice, or make the case it is necessary. Did you even glance at the article before you recommended it?

  • Brandybuck||

    There are private schools for hte poor in India, because the public schools are worse than none. The private schools are affordable for the absolute poorest of the world's poor. The private schools are performing better than the public schools. The private schools don't even need vouchers or tax moneys, they really are private. It sounds impossible to the left, and even to most on the right. But they exist and are doing well.

    http://www.econtalk.org/archiv.....ey_on.html

  • Longtobefree||

    "Valuing competition in childhood education inherently means valuing the culling of children"

    I call bullshit. Come on Tony, you can do better than that.

    "As for the empirical evidence, this article doth protest too much"

    I call more bullshit. That is not the position you take on the 'empirical evidence' for global climate warming change.

  • Microaggressor||

    The culling comment is classic Tony ignorance. In reality it has the opposite effect: special needs kids will have more private institutions designed just for them. Public school SpEd is literally daycare.

  • Brandybuck||

    Modern school choice: Choose between the public school or taxpayer funded charter school, which is still technically a public school.

  • Longtobefree||

    Yeah, no one even questions the major premise anymore, that taxpayers should fund education for pre-K through 12th grade. This is trap that libertarians fall into all the time. We spend gallons of electronic ink arguing the differences over government programs without asking why it is a government issue to begin with.
    At least at the federal level, there is no rationale for government intervention at all, at any grade level.

  • lap83||

    I think even pro-school choice people find it difficult to argue with "But the chilrenz!", probably because they are too uneducated to form a cogent argument. I blame lack of school funding. (sarc)

  • Microaggressor||

    Any reduction in central planning is beneficial, even though not ideal. The only way we're going to get any results is with baby steps.

  • MoreFreedom||

    Separate school and state.

    Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of education, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.

    Otherwise, we end up passing laws and creating schools that teach the secular religion of government worship or whatever people vote on removing all their choices a free market would provide. It will also cost a lot more, deliver inferior results and have unhappier customers (no not customers, people forced to pay for it, and students who are forced to go to school as if it was a jail).

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