Students Benefit When Schools Compete

Published November 1, 2003


In a recent study of Florida’s A+ Program, Manhattan Institute scholars Jay P. Greene and Marcus A. Winters found that the greater the competitive pressure public schools faced from vouchers, the more the schools improved student achievement. (See “When Schools Compete, Good Things Happen,” School Reform News, October 2003.)

When Vouchers Loom, Public Schools Improve

The amount of competitive pressure faced by a Florida public school depends on how close it is to getting two failing grades from the state. When that occurs, students at the school may use vouchers to transfer to other schools. Greene and Winters placed schools into five groups to reflect how close each school was to facing competition from vouchers:

  • In “voucher eligible” schools, students already were receiving vouchers; in such schools, scores on the state’s FCAT reading test averaged 10.1 scale points above the average gain for all schools;
  • Competition was next highest in “voucher threatened” schools, where one more F would make them voucher-eligible; FCAT reading gains in these schools averaged 8.2 scale points above average;
  • In “always D” schools–with lots of Ds but no immediate voucher threat–FCAT reading gains were 2.5 scale points above average;
  • In “ever D” schools–schools with just one D and thus at little risk of facing voucher competition–FCAT reading gains were average;
  • In “formerly threatened” schools, which last received an F at least four years earlier, FCAT reading gains were 2.5 scale points below average.

United Kingdom

Competition in U.S. Benefits All Students

In a study of school performance in the United Kingdom since “quasi-market” reforms were instituted in 1988, Lancaster University economists Steve Bradley and Jim Taylor report competition has benefited all students, including those from low-income families. (See accompanying article, “Competition among Schools Benefits All Students.”) The researchers analyzed data for 3,000 public schools from 1992 to 2000, breaking schools into five “poverty” groups based on the percentage of students eligible for free school meals.

Schools in all groups showed a significant increase in student achievement over the eight years of the study. However, the percentage increase in the number of students reaching the achievement level was greatest in high-poverty schools and smallest–though still substantial–in low-poverty schools.

For more information …

A copy of the Manhattan Institute study, “When Schools Compete: The Effects of Vouchers on Florida Public School Achievement,” is available online at

A copy of the Adam Smith Institute study, “The Report Card on Competition in Schools,” is available online at