What Leads to Successful School Choice Programs? A Review of the Theories and Evidence
22 Pages Posted: 2 Oct 2017 Last revised: 13 Nov 2017
Date Written: November 12, 2017
There is a large body of thorough research showing many positive benefits of school choice. However, many questions remain on how school choice works. Rigorous school choice experiments can only determine if access to school choice programs alters student outcomes; they cannot confidently identify the specific mechanisms that mediate various outcomes. Two commonly theorized mechanisms in school choice programs that lead to positive outcomes are (1) an increased access to higher-quality schools and (2) an improved match between schools and students. We examine the existing empirical evidence and the theoretical arguments for these two primary mechanisms. While there is evidence supporting both mechanisms, no studies are able to isolate the effect of quality schools independent of families selecting schools that match their preferences. Since the majority of this research is descriptive and has limited causal interpretation, theory is essential in guiding interpretation and policy implications. Theory suggests that people make choices based on what they believe to be the best match for their children, and those choices lead to incentives for individual schools to improve. We conclude with policy recommendations based on our summary of the literature.
Keywords: school choice; school vouchers; charter schools; education reform
JEL Classification: I28
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation