Breaking the Public Monopoly on K-12: When it comes to school reform, the United States could learn a thing or two from Sweden.
Many believe private schools generally achieve more than public schools. In big cities, as many as 80 percent of public school parents say they would send their children to parochial or independent schools if they could afford the tuition. Scholarships for poor families are heavily oversubscribed as are charter schools, which are government-funded but run by private boards. Do private schools deserve their reputations and consumer preference?
In 2007, I tried to track down all published and unpublished studies of this question and summarized the findings in the book School Choice: The Findings. Included in the findings were studies that compared students in private and nearby public schools that were similar in social class, other demographics, and achievement when the study began.
The most important studies considered were “randomized trials” in which children from a large applicant pool were assigned by lottery to a private school or to the public school they would normally attend. Particularly valuable in this respect were studies of my Koret Task Force colleagues: Paul Peterson studied students lotteried for scholarships to attend private schools of their choice and contrasted them with children who remained in public schools. Caroline Hoxby studied similarly selected students accepted to charter schools and those who remained in their neighborhood public schools.
Since 2007, research continued to show that, on average, private school students excel in the academic skills students acquire such as reading comprehension and the knowledge they gain in such subjects as English, mathematics, and science. Studies, moreover, show that the higher the percentage of students attending private schools, including charters, in a locality or state, the higher the average achievement of all schools.
Studies of countries show the same pattern: The greater the percentage of students attending private schools, the higher the country’s overall achievement. Private schools not only raise the overall average but they set high standards and promote competition among all schools.