Dismal Science: The Shortcomings of U.S. School Choice Research and How to Address Them

Cato Policy Analysis Series No. 616

20 Pages Posted: 5 Sep 2008 Last revised: 16 Nov 2008

Date Written: April 16, 2008


Pressing questions about the merits of market accountability in K-12 education have spawned a large scholarly literature. Unfortunately, much of that literature is of limited relevance, and some of it is misleading. The studies most widely cited in the United States used intense scrutiny of a few small-scale, restriction-laden U.S. programs -- and a handful of larger but still restriction-laden foreign school choice expansions -- to assert general conclusions about the effects of "choice," "competition," and "markets." The most intensely studied programs lack most or all of the key elements of market systems, including profit, price change, market entry, and product differentiation -- factors that are normally central to any discussion of market effects. In essence, researchers have drawn conclusions about apples by studying lemons.

To address the need for credible evidence on the effects of genuine education markets, economists should look to simulation models, indirect evidence such as outcomes in similar industries, and school systems abroad that enjoy varying degrees of market accountability.

Keywords: school reform, school choice, education, reform, markets, comparative, education markets, simulation models, government reform, regulation

JEL Classification: H52, I2, I22, I28, I29, D6

Suggested Citation

Merrifield, John D., Dismal Science: The Shortcomings of U.S. School Choice Research and How to Address Them (April 16, 2008). Cato Policy Analysis Series No. 616, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1263484 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.1263484

John D. Merrifield (Contact Author)

University of Texas at San Antonio ( email )

One UTSA Circle
San Antonio, TX 78249
United States

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