Families Love School Choice, but Elizabeth Warren Loves Taking It Away

This article appeared on Washington Examiner on October 28, 2019.
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Sometimes it's better to have no plan at all than to have an awful one. If only Sen. Elizabeth Warren took that advice.

The Massachusetts Democrat and 2020 presidential candidate just released her education plan, which calls for more money for government-run schools and more regulations for the private and charter schools which compete with the public school system. Warren's plan plainly ignores the wishes of families and their children. Nearly 30,000 students are desperately waiting in line for a chance to attend charter schools in Warren's home state, but apparently, the senator thinks she knows what's best for these children better than their parents.

My new study, just published at the Annenberg Institute at Brown University, compares family satisfaction levels for private schools and charter schools to government-run schools in the United States. Using a nationally representative sample of over 13,000 students, I find that families are more satisfied with private and charter schools than government-run schools on six key measures of satisfaction.

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Specifically, families with children in charter schools are 16% more likely to report being “very satisfied” with school than families with children in government-run schools. This increase in school satisfaction compared to government-run schools is 26% for Catholic schools, 30% for non-Catholic religious private schools, and 27% for nonreligious private schools. The study’s results also suggest that private and charter school families are more satisfied with their teachers, academic standards, discipline, staff interaction with parents, and student enjoyment.

None of the models found any satisfaction advantages favoring government-run schools.

Because students likely differ on characteristics that affect school satisfaction, the analytic models include over 200 controls for factors such as household income, parent education, and family engagement. The overall advantages for private and charter schools remained even after controlling for the student’s grades and whether the school was their first choice, suggesting grade inflation and bias do not explain the positive results.

And this isn’t the first study to find that families enjoy school choice.

peer-reviewed summary of the academic literature by Saint Louis University’s Dr. Evan Rhinesmith finds that all 19 evaluations on the subject show that private school choice programs improve parental satisfaction. A 2019 review of the evidence similarly finds that all 26 studies on the subject indicate satisfaction advantages for private schools.

Eight random assignment studies similarly found that winning a lottery to use a private school choice program has large positive effects on school satisfaction. For example, the most recent federal evaluation of the Washington, D.C., voucher program found that private school choice increased student’s satisfaction with their schools by 18%.

Politicians regularly call to divert funding to special interests, which in Warren’s case includes teachers’ unions. But the senator should realize that ignoring the preferences of disadvantaged families while calling to limit their educational options is “progressive” in no meaningful sense of the word.