Overseas, private schools boost publics

Competition from private schools improves achievement and productivity in both public and private schools, according to an international study reported in Education Next. Martin R. West, a Brown education professor, and University of Munich economist Ludger Woessmann used data from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) Program for International Student Assessment (PISA).

West and Woessmann noted that a 10 percent increase in enrollment in private schools improves PISA math test scores by more than 9 percent of a standard deviation, nearly equal to a half of a year’s worth of learning. For science and reading, a 10 percent increase in private school enrollment generates an improvement of more than 5 percent of a standard deviation — more than one-fifth of a grade-level. And in educational spending, a 10 percent increase in the private school enrollment leads to a $3,209 reduction in spending per student — on average, more than 5 percent of the total education spending per student through age 15 for OECD countries.

Three-quarters of Dutch 15-year-olds and a majority of teens in Belgium, Ireland, and Korea attend private schools, compared to 6 percent of U.S. 15-year-olds sampled by PISA.

American students ranked 24th among the 29 OECD countries included in this study in mathematics, performing almost three-quarters of a grade level behind the OECD mean and almost three grade levels behind the three highest performing countries: Finland, Korea, and the Netherlands.

U.S. science and reading scores also were below the OECD average.

Both Obama and McCain came out for competition in education in the final debate, Jay Greene points out.

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  1. superdestroyer says:

    People need to parse what Senator Obama says about competition. His program is to prove that charters, vouchers, or anything that would harm the teacher unions are failures.

  2. Obama’s approach to education is to sound pro-choice, since voters like that, while still catering to the teacher unions and anti-choice democrats. He is only as educationally “progressive” as the risk of losing support from certain sectors is balanced by his desire to be seen as a reformer. Hardly an admirable position — no risk, no innovation, no voter left behind.

  3. Sen. Obama used to be pro-vouchers until he became the Democratic nominee. I find his flip-flop both disappointing and hypocritical since he himself was educated in private schools AND he sends his own children to one. Sure it’s okay for his own family to flee failing government-run schools but God forbid that other families should have the same option…

  4. David Cohen says:

    Problems with vouchers:

    1. Competition may help, but shifting public money to private schools diminishes the ability of public schools to compete. Higher end private schools are tapping into resources (foundations, alumni giving) that most public schools can’t match, and those private schools don’t need or deserve public subsidies.

    2. Education funding for public schools shouldn’t be thought of in terms of each individual student’s share of the budget. (That’s a flaw in spending formulas created by the state, too). The costs of operating a school or school system do not diminish in fixed proportion to declines in enrollment. Per-pupil spending calculations are informative for some purposes, but consider: in a school district spending $7500 per student, if a student leaves, where’s the $7500 in savings? If ten students leave, it probably doesn’t reduce staffing needs at all, but you have to find $75,000 in cuts or savings? And if 100 students leave a medium to large sized district, you can cut 3-5 teachers and still have a loooong way to go to reach the $750,000 to be cut. It’s not the student’s money, as an individual, to be withdrawn by the student or family. It is a portion of our collective public investment in the education of all students.

    3. Vouchers are mainly a benefit to the well-off. Most voucher amounts provide a nice discount to those already paying for private school, but not enough to get a high-quality alternative for families who can’t afford private school.

    4. Private schools are under no obligation to take students they don’t want. They can pick the best students, those easiest to educate, leaving public schools with the mandate to educate a needier population (proportionally) and less money with which to do it.

    5. Store-front private schools spring up to take advantage of voucher money, but teacher quality, facilities and materials are often sub-standard, with fewer if any safeguards. Even if such schools don’t last long, their short existence may have lasting effects for the students who pass through.

    6. Church/state breach – tax dollars to parochial schools. Legal opinions on this are divided, though.

  5. superdestroyer says:


    Talk you for repeating the teachers unions talking points. Senator obama wants to close down charter schools that fail but leave open non-charter public schools that faile.

    How do you explain the difference. If failure should result in closure, it should happen to all public schools. At least with charter schools, the parents can pull their children out but with non-charter public schools, the parents are stuck with failure.

  6. The way to get around problem #3 is simple- simply limit vouchers to those families with low-to-moderate incomes. And the amount of money my local district spends per-pupil (around $11k) would cover most or all of the tuition at many of the private and parochial schools in the area. Granted there are some schools that charge double that (or more) but they also have the resources to offer generous financial aid to make up the difference for a poor-but-bright student.

    As for #6, there seems to be no problem with giving vouchers to college students for use at religious-affiliated schools. A student can even use a Pell Grant to pay for seminary training to become a priest, minister, or rabbi.