Dismal Science: The Shortcomings of U.S. School Choice Research and How to Address Them

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Pressing questions about the merits of marketaccountability in K-12 education have spawned alarge scholarly literature. Unfortunately, much ofthat literature is of limited relevance, and some ofit is misleading. The studies most widely cited inthe United States used intense scrutiny of a fewsmall-scale, restriction-laden U.S. programs—anda handful of larger but still restriction-laden foreignschool choice expansions—to assert generalconclusions about the effects of "choice," "competition,"and "markets." The most intenselystudied programs lack most or all of the key elements of market systems, including profit, pricechange, market entry, and product differentiation—factors that are normally central to any discussionof market effects. In essence, researchershave drawn conclusions about apples by studyinglemons.

To address the need for credible evidence onthe effects of genuine education markets, economistsshould look to simulation models, indirectevidence such as outcomes in similar industries,and school systems abroad that enjoy varyingdegrees of market accountability.

John Merrifield

John Merrifield is a professor of economics at the University of Texas–San Antonio, editor of the Journal of School Choice, and author of Parental Choices as an Education Reform Catalyst: Global Lessons (2005) and The School Choice Wars (2001).