With a growing number of school choice programs comes a growing body of research on how educational opportunity benefits students. These benefits manifest themselves in outcomes such as higher graduation rates, increased academic achievement, and higher levels of parent satisfaction with their children’s schools.
Students in school choice programs graduate at significantly higher rates than their public school peers. A 2010 gold-standard evaluation of the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program (DCOSP)—a voucher program for low-income children in Washington, D.C.—revealed that over 90 percent of DCOSP students graduated from high school, compared to just 70 percent of their peers with similar characteristics who remained in D.C. public schools. Similarly, students in the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program who participated for all four of their high school years had a 94 percent graduation rate, compared to a 75 percent graduation rate of their peers who attended four-years of public high school.
And students who participate in charter schools are also more likely to graduate than their peers who attend traditional public high schools.
Research also shows that students who participate in school choice programs do better in school. In a review of all the “gold standard” (randomized) evaluations of school choice programs in the United States, researchers found that nine of the 10 studies revealed positive academic gains for school choice students.
In addition to positive student outcomes, parents are more satisfied with their children’s schools when they have a choice. For example, 93 percent of parents whose children participated in the McKay Scholarship Program—a program for special-needs students in Florida—reported that they were satisfied with their children’s schools, compared to only 33 percent of parents whose special-needs children were enrolled in public schools. Parents of DCOSP students as well as parents with children in the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program and those whose children attend charter schools also report high levels of satisfaction with their children’s schools.
But it isn’t just the families who participate in school choice programs who benefit. Public school students also gain. Researchers found, for example, that as more private schools participated in Florida’s McKay Scholarship Program, the reading and math achievement of special-needs students in nearby public schools increased significantly. Researchers also report increases in public school achievement as a result of the competitive pressure that the Florida Tax Credit Scholarship Program introduced into the school system.
Why is school choice able to produce these benefits? School choice puts power in the hands of parents to choose the schools that they decide is best for their children. Rather than a system telling parents where children must attend school, choice allows parents greater influence in their children’s education.
The benefits and opportunity of choice need not be limited to only a handful of students in a few states. The option for a quality education should be available to every child in the United States.