The Truth About School Choice

Report Education

The Truth About School Choice

April 9, 2001 5 min read
The Heritage Foundation

Congress is now debating whether to include expanded parental choice in education reform. Social-science researchers have found that expanded parental choice has positive benefits - both for children who leave failing schools, and for the public- school systems they leave.

The academic performance of low-income children improves under school choice

A 1999 study by Kim Metcalf, an education professor at Indiana University, found that children enrolled in Cleveland's taxpayer-financed choice program enjoy statistically-significant improvements on science and language tests. See:

Professor Paul Peterson of Harvard University has shown that parents in Cleveland are more satisfied with choice schools than with the public schools their children leave. Another study of his shows that student performance in three privately-funded private scholarship programs is higher relative to students enrolled in the respective public-school systems. The studies, An Evaluation of the Cleveland Voucher After Two Years and Test-Score Effects of School Voucher Programs in Dayton, Ohio, New York City, and Washington, D.C.: Evidence from Randomized Field Trials can be obtained on Harvard University's Program for Education Policy and Governance web page, at:

Peterson also finds Milwaukee choice students outperform their public-school counterparts by nearly 11 percentile points higher on standardized math tests after just three years, and by six points in reading after four years. Children in grades one through three in Cleveland's choice program scored almost nine points better in math and six points in reading after just one year in the program. See Effectiveness of School Choice: The Milwaukee Experiment and New Findings From the Cleveland Scholarship Program, respectively, at:

Even former critics of school choice are becoming converts. John Witte, a professor at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee and hired by the state to evaluate the effectiveness of school choice in Milwaukee, originally found that expanded choice had little impact on student performance. Yet in a new book, The Market Approach to Education: An Analysis of America's First Voucher Program, Witte finds choice to be a "useful tool to aid low-income children." See an article from the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel at:

Existing school choice programs do not "skim" the best students, but cater to low-income children who resemble those in surrounding public schools

A 2000 study by the Wisconsin Legislative Audit Bureau finds that despite fears of creaming and segregation, choice schools in Milwaukee serve students who are demographically similar to those in surrounding public schools. See

A study by the Buckeye Institute argues that choice schools in Cleveland have provided better racial integration than the Cleveland public-school system. See The Racial, Economic, and Religious Context of Parental Choice in Cleveland at:

Expanded school choice also improves the quality of public education by introducing competitive, market forces to the system

A Manhattan Institute study on Florida's school-choice program finds that those public schools that are in danger of losing students because of poor performance, experience higher academic gains relative to other government schools. Schools that are on the verge of losing students see test scores jump over twice as high as other schools. See

Experimental research on school choice is important to test its effectiveness

A National Resource Council (NRC) panel commissioned by the Clinton administration recommended the establishment of large, multi-district choice programs for up to 10 years so that researchers could analyze the impact on participating students and their peers in surrounding public and private schools. See this Education Week article:

School choice does not violate church-state principles, it follows the same guidelines as federal student loans

Following World War II, Congress passed the G.I. Bill which allowed thousands of returning veterans to use taxpayer money to attend colleges of choice, including religious schools. In response, the number of colleges and universities increased to meet the growing demand. Federal student loans and Pell grants are also redeemable at religious institutions. Also, many disabled K-12 students already use taxpayer money to attend private schools.

School choice attracts wide support from across the political spectrum. Read what others have said about the power of choice, you may be surprised who they are

"Throughout my career, I have been an opponent of school voucher programs. . . . However, after much soul-searching, I have reluctantly concluded that a limited school voucher program is now essential for the poorest Americans attending the worst public schools. . . . Today, to force children into inadequate schools is to deny them any chance of success. To do so simply on the basis of their parent's income is a sin."

Arthur Levine
President, Teacher's College, Columbia University

"This is not a question for me about Democrats or Republicans. It is really a question about whether or not we are going to continue to let every child die, arguing that, if we begin to do vouchers, if we do charter schools, what we in fact are doing is taking away from the public system. We say, let them all stay there. Let them all die. It is like saying there has been a plane crash. But because we cannot save every child, we are not going to save any of our children; we let them all die."

Rev. Floyd Flake
Former Member, U.S. House of Representatives (D - New York)

"It's time to admit that public education operates like a planned economy, a bureaucratic system in which everybody's role is spelled out in advance, and there are few incentives for innovation and productivity. It's no surprise that our school system doesn't improve: It more resembles the communist economy than our own market economy."

Albert Shanker
Former President, American Federation of Teachers

"Shame on us for not realizing that there are parents in this country who . . . today support vouchers not because they are enamored with private schools but because they want a choice for their children. They want alternatives, and seeing none in our rigid system, they are willing and some even desperate to look elsewhere."

The Hon. John Kerry
U.S. Senator (D-Massachusetts)

"[T]he court will come to a more enlightened and tolerant view of the First Amendment's guarantee of free exercise of religion, thus eliminating the denial of equal protection to children in church-sponsored schools, and take a more realistic view that carefully limited aid to children is not a step toward establishing a state religion."

The Hon. Warren Burger
Former Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court

"If you're in an…under-achieving school, then you have a right to seek a voucher to go to a school where you can be guaranteed some level of achievement."

The Hon. Andrew Young
Former Mayor of Atlanta

"We must continue the work my father began. Education is the key to freedom and opportunity. We basically have one supplier, the public education system, and it has become a huge bureaucracy. This bureaucracy has to be challenged. Fairness demands that all children, not just the rich, have access to an education that will help them achieve their dreams"

Martin Luther King III
President, Southern Christian Leadership Conference


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