Study Shows Competition from School Choice Improves Education

Family Research Council President Tony Perkins at a news conference to discuss the shooting, Thursday, Aug. 16, 2012, in Washington. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)


A new study from the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice shows that competition is the key to improving American education.

“Pursuing Innovation” looks at “how effective open enrollment, charters, and educational choice programs are at improving student outcomes.”

There were four key findings in this report. The first is that education by ZIP code may soon be a thing of the past, as non-residential forms of school choice (open enrollment, charter schools, homeschooling, and private educational choice programs) grow rapidly. The second is that competition from private school choice and charter schools do the most to improve schools, because they allow public school dollars to follow the student. Public schools then have more incentive to better serve families or attract new students.

The other two conclusions have to do with the future of education and choice. Once is that educational improvements cannot grow by leaps and bounds until school choice does the same. Educational achievement grows in proportion to the amount of choice available. In Florida and Milwaukee, for example, there is robust school choice, and academic gains have been significant. The final conclusion drawn from the report is that innovation is necessary to meet needs today, because children don’t have time to wait. America’s education spending continues to grow exponentially, while outcomes improve only marginally. Choice schools, on the other hand, experience the same or better outcomes at lower costs.

Public schools are terrified of competition from private and charter schools. Wait, let me restate that: public school teachers’ unions are terrified of competition from private and charter schools. Without competition, they can continue to under-perform, then whine about needing more money. The alternatives have forever proven that money isn’t the obstacle. I went to poor Catholic schools that consistently provided a better education than public schools.

The notion that a freer market or competition will be detrimental to performance is rather un-American, but it’s the default position for the American Federation of Teachers and the National Education Association. The correlation between spending and academic achievement they champion is almost nonexistent in most places in America.

Public schools don’t have to embrace the innovation that this study says is necessary if there is no impetus to do so. Absent competition from private and charter schools, a premium can be placed on maintaining the status quo because the benefits of alternatives aren’t readily apparent.

No one wants public education in America to go away, but the teachers’ unions try to make is seem as if that’s the case. We just want public schools to get better.

Maybe someday the unions will too.