School Choice Has No Impact. And Your Point Is..?

Steven D. Levitt writes about some of his cohorts whose studies indicate that sending kids to “better” schools doesn’t guarantee better results.

Part of the answer is likely that the definition of “better” is based on outputs, like how high the test scores are at the school or what fraction of its students attend good colleges. That sort of metric ignores the fact that “better” schools tend to attract “better” kids. These are kids with strong families and good academic backgrounds. So even if the school is not at all good at adding value, it will still have the best outputs, because it had the best inputs. If the school does not have high value added, there is no reason to expect that a child who transfers there will do better than she did at her previous school. Parents don’t have good information on the inputs to a school, only the outputs, so it is difficult for them to accurately assess value added.

If this is an argument against school choice, it is a weak one. Parents should be able to choose what school their kid attends not because of the expected outcome, but because he is their kid!

In thinking about the broader implications of this research, it is important to bear in mind that the school choice program that Julie and Brian analyze is just one kind of school choice (albeit the most common one), operating within a single public school system. It differs from voucher programs or school choice across school districts, and increased competition may be more effective in those settings.

It is a very slippery slope to decide policy based completely on the predicted outcome without regard for the rights of the individual to choose. Here’s why…

In Levitt’s conclusions in his book, Freakonomics, he contends that the drop in crime rate of the 1990s was a result of Roe vs Wade. Essentially, many would be criminals from difficult socio-economic backgrounds were never born, and therefore never grew up to be criminals two decades later.

Assuming this is true, would it be a valid policy to require all mothers in stressed economic conditions to have ablortions? Would we set a policy to kill all babies born into difficult socio-economic conditions in order to reduce the crime rate later on? Of course not.

No matter the expected outcome, it is wrong to violate the rights of the individual to choose, so long as the choice does no harm to anyone else.

Sorry, but where we send our kids to school is none of anyone else’s business. Period.

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