The doctoral dissertation of Corey A. DeAngelis, a policy analyst with the Cato Institute’s Center for Educational Freedom, concludes that the causal evidence on private schooling and private school choice programs worldwide has positive effects on student achievement and non-cognitive skills. Furthermore, students in private schools demonstrated better results on standardized testing, and less proclivity for adult criminal behavior.

The first of the three chapters in The Societal Impacts of Private School Choice around the World looks at the effect private schooling has on scores on the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) test. Inaugurated in 2000, PISA tests 15-year-olds in mathematics, reading, and science every three years. DeAngelis finds a one percentage point increase in the private school share of enrollment leads to an increase in scores, 1.4-point for math and a 1.1-point for reading, on PISA. 

The second chapter examines data on over 300,000 students from 44 different countries from the 2009 PISA, finding private schooling has a substantial positive impact on PISA scores. This is possibly the result of increased effort on PISA from private school students, which DeAngelis also finds. “Private schooling increases student math scores by 179 scale points, reading scores by 73 scale points, and science scores by scale 218 points,” DeAngelis notes. “These effects are all substantially large, as they equate to around a 185 percent of a standard deviation increase in math scores, a 79 percent of a standard deviation increase in reading scores, and over a two standard deviation increase in science scores.”

The final chapter looks at the crime rates for young adults who participated in the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program, a school voucher program for low-income students launched in 1990. DeAngelis finds “mere exposure to private schooling through a voucher is associated with lower rates of criminal activity, but the relationship is not robust to different analytic samples.” However, “students who used the program through 12th grade…were much less likely to have criminal records than their public school peers. These results are apparent when controlling for a robust set of student demographics, test scores, and parental characteristics.”

DeAngelis’ findings on the benefits of private school choice programs are not surprising, as the copious empirical research on voucher programs, education savings accounts, and tax-credit scholarships finds they offer families improved access to high-quality schools that meet their widely diverse needs and desires. Moreover, they do so at a lower cost while simultaneously benefitting public school students and taxpayers, decreasing segregation, and improving civic values and practices.

“Based on the existing evidence on the effects of private school choice, policymakers should increase access to private school choice programs including private school vouchers, tax-credit scholarships, tax-credit deductions, and education savings accounts,” DeAngelis concludes.

An expansion of these choice programs at the state level would reap even more positive results. The goal of public education policy in the United States should be to allow all parents to choose the school best suited to meet the unique needs of their children.  School choice programs require every school to compete for every student who walks through its doors, thus ensuring every child has the opportunity to attend a quality school.

The following documents provide more information on private school choice.

Protecting Students with Child Safety Accounts
In this Heartland Policy Brief, Vicki Alger, senior fellow at the Independent Women’s Forum and research fellow at the Independent Institute, and Heartland Policy Analyst Tim Benson detail the prevalence of bullying, harassment, and assault taking place in America’s public schools and the difficulties for parents in having their child moved from a school that is unsafe for them. Alger and Benson propose a Child Safety Account program, which would allow parents to immediately have their child moved to a safe school – private, parochial, or pub­lic – as soon as parents feel the public school their child is currently attending is too dangerous to their child’s physical or emotion­al health.