Is there any valid school choice evidence on competition as the supporters claim? The longest standing argument for school choice rests on the idea that competition increases student performance. Politicians use this argument to defund public schools. Proponents of school choice use this argument to lobby politicians. But is there any evidence at all that shows that the argument is true? It seems that the strongest scientific argument finds against the school choice claims. In 1996, sociologist Richard Arum studied whether the school choice claims were valid.
What Does the Evidence say about School Choice?
Arum was interested in whether there was school choice evidence on competition as the school choice proponents claimed. Arum sought to understand whether competition from private schools had an impact on their public school counterparts. He wanted to know if competition had an impact on student performance. Arum's analysis was based on a statistical comparison of the size of the private school sphere in a state and the size of public school resources. In the latter, he measured the student/teacher ratio as a relationship to student performance on standardized testing.
Arum's results were clear. The presence of private schools had no impact on the performance of public schools based on market pressure. Rather, public schools improve when states provide more funding to public schools. It may be of note that he found that state funding for public schools increased as the size of the private schools took a larger share of the marketplace. In spite of this, Arum found that it was funding and not competition that improved public school student performance. He argued that competition had little if any impact on student outcomes. In his conclusion, Arum argued that competition does have an impact on public schooling, but not the same at the school choice zealots claim. Arum found that private school competition served as an inducement for increased funding for the public sector. It is the increased funding that has an impact on student outcomes, not the competition.
School Choice Evidence on Competition
The lesson of Arum's study is clear. Student outcomes only increase when states spend more money on public education. The increased spending translates into lower student/teacher ratios and more time for teachers to spend on individual student needs. Yet, in the school choice community of zealots, the results of studies do not seem to matter. Rather, these true believers dismiss such work as flawed in favor of the unproven theory. School choice evidence on competition seems to fall short of the claims made by the true believers, yet the claims are what politicians base public policy on.