Markets of competing private schools outperform public school

Study based on 25 years of educational data effectively settles the debate

September 10, 2008

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WASHINGTON—Markets of competing private schools consistently outperform public schools, concludes a Cato Institute study that analyzes 25 years worth of educational research from over 18 nations.

“The key education policy question of the 21st century is whether or not schooling can benefit from the same market forces that exist in every other field: consumer choice, competition between schools –- even the profit motive. This study reveals that across time, countries, and outcome measures, private provision of education outshines public provision,” says author Andrew Coulson, director of Cato’s Center for Educational Freedom, in “Markets vs. Monopolies in Education: A Global Review of Evidence.”

In his analysis, Coulson looked at the scientific evidence comparing public and private schools across the world on a range of outcome measures including academic achievement, cost-effectiveness, and parental satisfaction. “It’s difficult to resolve this debate using domestic evidence alone, because U.S. private school choice programs are so tiny, and they all lack key elements of the free enterprise system,” Coulson explains. “Fortunately,” he adds, “researchers all over the world have been studying this question for decades.”

Drawing on 115 separate comparisons of public and private schools, from 55 different studies, the report finds that the private sector’s margin of superiority is greatest when looking at the least regulated, most market-like private schools. “These results discredit the belief, common in both conservative and liberal policy circles, that the content of schooling must be overseen by government in order for education markets to work their best. In reality, the opposite is true,” Coulson observes.

The author concludes: “Given the breadth, consistency, and relevance and decisiveness of this body of evidence, U.S. policymakers should be considering education reforms that bring a dynamic education marketplace within reach of every family in America.”

This report can be found at: http://www.cato.org/pub_display.php?pub_id=9634