Government is good at many things, but flexibility and innovation are not two of them.
Yet these two qualities are absolutely necessary to succeed in the 21st century global economy. They need to be part of a 21st century education—and they can be—through a system of school choice. The best example has been proposed as Texas Senate Bill 276, which would allow money to follow the child, rather than requiring the child follow the money.
Any conversation that we have about education policy needs to start and end with the question: is this good for Texas students?
If the answer is yes, we should do it. If not, we shouldn’t. School choice is no exception.
So we need to ask: is school choice good for individual students?
A huge amount of time and effort has been poured into answering this question. In the past 20 years, there have been 10 high-quality studies that give us an answer. Nine report benefits. One reports no change.
Is school choice good for individual students? The research shows that it is, which helps us put together one part of the ed reform puzzle. Here’s a list of the studies:
A 1998 study my MIT scholars found that math scores of Milwaukee school choice participants improved by 1.5 – 2.3 percentage points. Reading scores weren’t affected.
A 1999 study by UT Austin and Harvard scholars found that, in Milwaukee, reading scores of students in the fourth year of their choice program had improved by 6 percentile points; math scores improved by 11 points.
A 2003 study by scholars at Johns Hopkins, Columbia, and Harvard found a 3 percentile point increase in math scores for African American children and stated that choice programs have “greater potential benefit for children in lower-scoring schools.”
A 2008 Policy Studies Journal article confirmed the reading score improvement from the 2001 Education Next study, but didn’t find a change in the math scores.
A 2010 study from Harvard University scholars found that New York public school students in choice programs improved their math and reading scores. Math scores of students who came from low-performing public schools increased by 4-5 percent; reading scores increased by 2-3 percent.
Not Peer Reviewed
A 2001 study by Education Next (a non-profit journal) found that choice students in Charlotte NC, scored 5.9 percentile points higher on math tests and 6.5 percentile points higher on reading tests.
A 2004 study by Princeton University scholars found that test scores of African American students in the New York school choice program did not change as a result of school choice.
A 2006 Brookings Institution study found that African American students in Washington, D.C., Dayton, OH, and New York, NY, scored 6 percentile points higher on their Iowa Tests than students who remained in their former school.
A 2012 joint study by the Brookings Institution and Harvard University looked at New York’s school choice program. They found that college enrollment by African American school choice students increased by 25%. They also found that African American enrollment in selective colleges (which have an average SAT of 1100 or more) more than doubled.
From the Federal Government
A 2010 study by the Federal Department of Education found that the school choice program in Washington D.C. had no impact on student test scores, but increased high school graduation rates from 70 percent to 82 percent.
Public education has been important to Texas for a long time. The last time there was fundamental reform was about 65 years ago. At that time, Texans looked at a system of schools which hadn’t adapted to the 20th century. Some of their ideas were published in the report called To have what we must. Here is one quote we would do well to remember today: “personalities, petty quarrels, local self-interest, political alignments, selfishness – these must be forgotten by any group entrusted with designing a better education for Texas.”