Expanding School Choice Through Open Enrolment: Lessons from British Columbia
20 Pages Posted: 15 Feb 2015
Date Written: February 13, 2015
Is expanding the scope for parents to choose among competing schools an effective policy lever for improving the quality of education? What lessons can we take from British Columbia’s experience with greater school choice? In 2002, British Columbia implemented a new policy that makes it easier for parents to opt out of their neighbourhood school. Along with the province’s rich administrative and test score data, the introduction of this “open enrolment” policy provides a rare opportunity to estimate the extent to which increased public school choice affects student achievement, concentrates minority students in enclave schools and promotes cream-skimming. Our results support several conclusions about British Columbia’s experience with open enrolment. First, the fact that many more parents succeeded in enrolling their children in out-of-catchment schools demonstrates that the policy had a meaningful impact on the public school choice opportunities available to many families. Second, the evidence suggests that open enrolment contributed to the development of important academic skills, but the magnitude of this impact depended on the geographic concentration of public schools. In the Lower Mainland, 10 to 15 percent of neighbourhoods are dense enough to have generated fairly substantial improvements in academic achievement. The gains in these neighbourhoods were equivalent to reducing class size by between two and three students; compared to class-size reductions, open enrolment is likely to be a fairly cost effective strategy for improving student achievement as measured by test scores. In the remaining neighbourhoods, where school density is lower, the impact of open enrolment on test scores was quite small. Finally, open enrolment did little to either segregate or integrate Lower Mainland students according to their cultural and ethnic backgrounds. There is also little evidence that popular schools engaged in cream-skimming high-achieving students. These generally positive results might encourage policymakers in other jurisdictions to give fresh thought to introducing greater school choice into their public education systems.
Keywords: Social Policy, Education
JEL Classification: I20, I21, I28
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation