Study Links School Choice to Academic Achievement

Article excerpt

States that provide families with the greatest amount of educational freedom increase the academic-achievement levels of their students, according to a study released yesterday by the Manhattan Institute for Policy Research.

In states that opened the doors to charter schools, home schooling, vouchers and other school-choice options, students on average outperformed their peers on the Scholastic Assessment Test (SAT) and the National Assessment of Education Progress exams (NAEP), said Manhattan Institute senior fellow Jay P. Greene, who conducted the study of the educational climate in the 50 states.

The nation's educationally freest states, according to Mr. Greene's report, are Arizona, Minnesota, Wisconsin, New Jersey and Oregon, with Texas picking up the No. 6 slot. States at the bottom of the index included Virginia, Rhode Island, Maryland, Kentucky, Nevada and West Virginia.

Hawaii, which has no charter schools, no voucher programs and only one school district, finished last.

When controlling for variables such as state demographics and per-pupil spending, the degree of openness directly predicts student success, said Mr. Greene, who has completed previous research on school-choice programs in Milwaukee, Cleveland, Charlotte, N.C., and San Antonio.

"Freedom matters," said Mr. Greene, a former government professor who has studied the effect of school choice on civic values and integration. "Simply providing families with additional options in the education of their children has a larger independent effect on student achievement than increasing education spending or reducing class size."

The report, called the Education Freedom Index, ranks states on their openness in five policy categories: charter school availability, vouchers, freedom to home school, ease with which families can choose a different public school district if they want to relocate, and ease with which they can pick a new school district without changing their residence.

States with high and low rankings are diverse geographically, politically and in wealth, the study found.

Mr. Greene illustrated his findings by comparing South Carolina and Texas, which differ in the educational options they provide families. Both have similar median household incomes and both educate a high percentage of minorities. …