Monday, November 22, 2010

What's the best way to improve Oklahoma's public schools?

That's a question I posed to some new state legislators at a recent orientation session at OCPA. A longer school year, perhaps? Merit pay? Accountability testing? Tenure reform?

No, believe it or not, the correct answer is: school choice. Yes, school choice is the best way to improve public schools. As Dr. Greg Forster recently pointed out,
There is one -- and as far as I know, it’s the only one -- education reform that is consistently proven to improve public schools. More evidence gets piled up every year, and it all points in one direction. ...

The impact of school choice programs on public schools has been studied 19 times, by researchers at top institutions (Harvard, Princeton, Stanford, Cornell, the Federal Reserve, etc.) using high-quality empirical methods. ... School choice is the best-studied approach to improving public schools. What does it find? Would you believe that 18 of the 19 studies found that school choice improves public schools, and the one remaining study found no difference?

Indeed, it looks like we're going to have to update that to 19 of 20, because just last week a new study came across my desk which found that

the increased competitive pressure public schools faced following the introduction of Florida’s Tax Credit Scholarship Program led to general improvements in their performance. The gains occur immediately, before any students leave the public schools with a scholarship, implying that the mere threat of competition is responsible for at least some of the estimated effects.

Last year state Sen. Dan Newberry (R-Tulsa) sponsored legislation similar to that in Florida. Sen. Newberry's bill deserves careful consideration in 2011, because it's likely it would help to improve public schools.

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