With So Much School Choice, Why Are Test Scores Stagnating?

Posted on October 06, 2005
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A friend recently asked, "If Arizona is the national leader in school choice, why is student achievement so low?"

Good question. Arizona is on the vanguard of school choice with more charter schools per capita than any other state and a scholarship system that gives thousands of students the ability to attend private schools. Nevertheless, Arizona student achievement in reading and math has largely stagnated over the past 10 years according to the National Assessment of Educational Progress.

If the competitive forces unleashed by school choice are so powerful, where are the improved test scores?

Despite having introduced competition into the Arizona education marketplace, school choice programs reach fewer than 10 percent of students. Researchers have documented improved test scores among these students. But the gains of that 10 percent of students are crowded out when amassed with the overall student population.

School choice should be a universal option. Instead of funding schools, state legislators should fund students directly, and let their parents redeem those education grants at the best available school-whether public, charter, or private. When parents have the ability to choose schools, failing schools will improve or shut down, and good schools where children excel will expand and flourish.

Limited competition has helped some; universal competition will help all. The proof will be in Arizona's rising student achievement.

Key Links:

-Caroline Hoxby: Rising Tide
-Goldwater Institute: Comparison of Traditional Public Schools and Charter Schools on Retention, School Switching, and Achievement Growth
-Clive Belfield and Henry Levin: The Effects of Competition on Educational Outcomes: A Review of US Evidence
-Goldwater Institute: A Guide to Understanding State Funding of Arizona Public School Students

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