Research & Commentary: Private School Choice Programs around the Globe Have Positive Impact on Students

Published June 29, 2018

The doctoral dissertation of Corey A. DeAngelis, a policy analyst with the Cato Institute’s Center for Educational Freedom, concludes that the causal evidence on private schooling and private school choice programs worldwide has positive effects on student achievement and non-cognitive skills. Furthermore, students in private schools demonstrated better results on standardized testing, and less proclivity for adult criminal behavior.

The first of the three chapters in The Societal Impacts of Private School Choice around the World looks at the effect private schooling has on scores on the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) test. Inaugurated in 2000, PISA tests 15-year-olds in mathematics, reading, and science every three years. DeAngelis finds a one percentage point increase in the private school share of enrollment leads to an increase in scores, 1.4-point for math and a 1.1-point for reading, on PISA. 

The second chapter examines data on over 300,000 students from 44 different countries from the 2009 PISA, finding private schooling has a substantial positive impact on PISA scores. This is possibly the result of increased effort on PISA from private school students, which DeAngelis also finds. “Private schooling increases student math scores by 179 scale points, reading scores by 73 scale points, and science scores by scale 218 points,” DeAngelis notes. “These effects are all substantially large, as they equate to around a 185 percent of a standard deviation increase in math scores, a 79 percent of a standard deviation increase in reading scores, and over a two standard deviation increase in science scores.”

The final chapter looks at the crime rates for young adults who participated in the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program, a school voucher program for low-income students launched in 1990. DeAngelis finds “mere exposure to private schooling through a voucher is associated with lower rates of criminal activity, but the relationship is not robust to different analytic samples.” However, “students who used the program through 12th grade…were much less likely to have criminal records than their public school peers. These results are apparent when controlling for a robust set of student demographics, test scores, and parental characteristics.”

DeAngelis’ findings on the benefits of private school choice programs are not surprising, as the copious empirical research on voucher programs, education savings accounts, and tax-credit scholarships finds they offer families improved access to high-quality schools that meet their widely diverse needs and desires. Moreover, they do so at a lower cost while simultaneously benefitting public school students and taxpayers, decreasing segregation, and improving civic values and practices.

“Based on the existing evidence on the effects of private school choice, policymakers should increase access to private school choice programs including private school vouchers, tax-credit scholarships, tax-credit deductions, and education savings accounts,” DeAngelis concludes.

An expansion of these choice programs at the state level would reap even more positive results. The goal of public education policy in the United States should be to allow all parents to choose the school best suited to meet the unique needs of their children.  School choice programs require every school to compete for every student who walks through its doors, thus ensuring every child has the opportunity to attend a quality school.

The following documents provide more information on private school choice.

The Societal Impacts of Private School Choice around the World
This doctoral dissertation from Corey A. DeAngelis of the Cato Institute concludes that the causal evidence on private schooling and private school choice programs worldwide that access to them has positive effects on student achievement and non-cognitive skills, increases student effort on standardized testing, and can possibly decrease the proclivity for adult criminal behavior in students.

The Chile Experiment: Comparing Chile’s Free School Choice Model with Quasi-Monopoly Educational Systems in Latin America on Academic Outcomes and School Segregation
This report from EdChoice examines the available achievement and segregation data of Chile’s school choice-based system compared to Latin American countries with similar socioeconomic structures and common educational histories, but with traditional education systems.

Is Public Schooling a Public Good? An Analysis of School Externalities
This study from Corey A. DeAngelis of the Cato Institute finds public schooling fails both conditions specified in the standard economic definition of a “public good.” It finds that public schooling in the United States has had a net negative externality of at least $1.3 trillion relative to publicly funded universal school vouchers over the lifetime of the current cohort of children in government schools. DeAngelis concludes the federal government should not operate schools at the local, state, or federal levels on the basis of schooling being considered a public good, nor should taxpayers fund government schooling indirectly through the tax system on the basis of schooling being a merit good. He recommends instead that education should be funded directly to students, not to schools, through a universal education savings account program.

The Public Benefit of Private Schooling: Test Scores Rise When There Is More of It
This Policy Analysis from the Cato Institute examines the effect increased access to private schooling has had on international student test scores in 52 countries. The Cato researchers found that a 1 percentage point increase in the share of private school enrollment would lead to moderate increases in students’ math, reading, and science achievement.

High School Options and Post-Secondary Student Success: The Catholic School Advantage
This peer-reviewed study published in the Journal of Catholic Education finds that students who attended Catholic high schools had higher college GPAs, were more likely to graduate, and were more likely to graduate with a STEM degree. This Catholic school advantage is wide-ranging, benefiting many subgroups of students, including non-white, low-income, urban, and low-achieving students.

Protecting Students with Child Safety Accounts
In this Heartland Policy Brief, Vicki Alger, senior fellow at the Independent Women’s Forum and research fellow at the Independent Institute, and Heartland Policy Analyst Tim Benson detail the prevalence of bullying, harassment, and assault taking place in America’s public schools and the difficulties for parents in having their child moved from a school that is unsafe for them. Alger and Benson propose a Child Safety Account program, which would allow parents to immediately have their child moved to a safe school – private, parochial, or pub­lic – as soon as parents feel the public school their child is currently attending is too dangerous to their child’s physical or emotion­al health.

Education Savings Accounts: The Future of School Choice Has Arrived
In this Heartland Policy Brief, Policy Analyst Tim Benson discusses how universal ESA programs offer the most comprehensive range of educational choices to parents; describes the six ESA programs currently in operation; and reviews possible state-level constitutional challenges to ESA programs.

A Win-Win Solution: The Empirical Evidence on School Choice (Fourth Edition)
This paper by EdChoice details how a vast body of research shows educational choice programs improve academic outcomes for students and schools, saves taxpayers money, reduces segregation in schools, and improves students’ civic values. This edition brings together a total of 100 empirical studies examining these essential questions in one comprehensive report.

Competition: For the Children
This study from the Texas Public Policy Foundation claims universal school choice results in higher test scores for students remaining in traditional public schools and improved high school graduation rates.


Nothing in this Research & Commentary is intended to influence the passage of legislation, and it does not necessarily represent the views of The Heartland Institute. For further information on this subject, visit School Reform News, The Heartland Institute’s website, and PolicyBot, Heartland’s free online research database.

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