School choice: first evidence to prove long-term benefits

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A report released this month by Victor Lavy of CESifo is the first evidence of its kind to prove the long-term social and economic benefits of school choice. Up until now, research conducted has explored life outcomes resulting from varying teachers' quality, schools' quality, classroom sizes and other school programs. Yet to be unravelled was the impact of school choice later on in life and how the effects of different types of post-secondary schooling, varying by quality, persist beyond attainment and standardised test scores. Adult employment, earnings and dependency on welfare are all examined in primary school students offered free school choice in the junction of transition to secondary school to determine which educational interventions best achieve the desirable long-term outcomes.  Remarkably, students who had choice at primary school are 4.7 percentage points more likely to enroll in post secondary schooling, and to complete almost an additional quarter year of college schooling in comparison to controlled students. Further to this success was an estimated 5-7 percentage points increase in average annual earnings among treated students at ages 28-30. This is explained by the improvement in academic outcomes resulting from the school choice program and post-secondary schooling attainment which are highly correlated to labour market earnings. Most surprising in the findings was that school choice led to reductions in health or mental disability rates at age 30 and to a decline in eligibility and recipiency of 3 disability welfare allowances.

Lessons learned from this study - which was conducted in Israel - can be easily applied to other educational settings due to different countries having very comparable and similar high-stakes exit exams. The school choice program also has similar features to related programs in the US, in Europe and in other OECD countries. As a result, variants of this school choice program have the potential to be implemented in developed countries across the world.

A great advantage of this study is that it is also the first of its kind to present evidence that can easily be acted upon directly via policy. Whereas most related studies have looked at long-term outcomes of measures not easily manipulated by policy like teachers' and schools' quality.

All the evidence now suggests that allowing children and their parents to choose freely at age 13 which secondary school they will attend, not only improves sharply their high school outcomes six years later, but also influences their path to post-secondary schooling, enhances their earnings over a decade and a half later and reduces their dependency on the public welfare system. These results are important because the school choice experiment targeted a disadvantaged population in some of the more deprived parts of Tel Aviv. This is now the most potent contribution of late to the critical question surrounding what educational interventions are conducive to the best possible life outcomes. Now the empirical evidence provided by the paper creates a fuller picture of the individual and social returns from these interventions, and will equip educators and governments with the information required to make the most informed decisions as to which educational programs constitute the most beneficial use of limited school resources.

With increasingly prominent advocates of free school choice and more evidence exhibiting its merits, we can hope to see it embodied in policy in the near future. Standing in the way, unfortunately,  are politicians and educationalists with an unfaltering dedication to the taxpayer-funded state-monopoly of learning. Opponents of school choice are not home with freedom. For if you had the freedom to choose how to be educated, you would not choose their way.