Research & Commentary: Test Scores Show Delaware Needs Private School Choice Options

Published August 3, 2018

The Delaware Department of Education recently released the results of the Smarter Balanced Assessments (SBA), which test students in grades three through eight in English language arts (ELA) and mathematics. Compared to 2017, the results show math scores have decreased while ELA scores have remained stagnant.

Overall, only 44 percent of students tested in mathematics reached grade-level proficiency, and just 54 percent of students tested proficient in ELA. Twenty-eight percent of low-income students tested proficient in math, while only 38 percent reached ELA proficiency. Twenty-seven percent of black students tested proficient in math and just 38 percent in ELA.

Confirming the SBA results were no fluke, 36 percent of Delaware 4th graders and 28 percent of 8th graders tested proficient in math on the 2017 National Assessment of Education Progress (NAEP) test, also known as the Nation’s Report Card. Only 36 percent of 4th graders and 33 percent of 8th graders tested proficient in reading.

These two sets of test scores show Delaware public schools are failing to educate at least half of their students to grade level proficiency in math and ELA.

Delaware’s sub-standard performance on the SBA and NAEP underscores the desperate need for the First State to expand its school choice opportunities far beyond what is currently available. Too many public schools in Delaware are failing to adequately prepare students for productive lives. Parents should be allowed to choose the schools their children attend and should not be penalized financially if that choice is a private religious or secular school.

Increases in private school enrollment have been shown to lead to increases in student scores on standardized tests. A Cato Institute analysis of data from 52 different countries between 2000 and 2012 found a 1 percentage point increase in the private school share of student enrollment led to a 2.5 percentage point increase in math scores, a 1.5 point increase in reading scores, and a 1.3 point increase in science scores on the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) test. A product of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, PISA assesses the academic ability of 15-year-old students. Each participating nation must test at least 4,500 students from 150 different schools to be included in the study.

Based on what we know about the educational benefits of private schools, it should not be surprising that the available empirical evidence on private school choice programs, such as education savings accounts, vouchers, and tax-credit scholarships, demonstrates a positive impact on the academic performance of students. Furthermore, these programs cost less than public schools, benefit public school studentsdecrease segregation, and improve civic values and practices.

Delaware currently lacks a private school choice program. However, a universal voucher or education savings account program could go a long way toward remedying the First State’s lackluster record of failing to effectively educate students. Delaware should allow all parents to choose which schools their children attend, require every school to compete for every student who walks through its doors, and make sure every child has the opportunity to attend a quality school.

The following documents provide more information on school choice programs.

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.

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.

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.

Apples to Apples: The Definitive Look at School Test Scores in Milwaukee and Wisconsin for 2018
This second annual peer-reviewed study from the Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty compares school academic performance across Wisconsin and finds students participating in the state’s private school choice programs are outperforming their traditional public school peers in math and reading proficiency, as well as on standardized tests such as the ACT.

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.

The School Voucher Audit: Do Publicly Funded Private School Choice Programs Save Money?
This report by Jeff Spalding of EdChoice provides a program-for-program breakdown of school voucher costs and savings. On the whole, Spalding says these programs have provided a cumulative savings of $1.3 billion since 2007, or roughly $3,400 per pupil.


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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