Does School Choice Increase School Quality?

The answer appears to be yes. Researchers affiliated with the National Bureau of Economic Research have found that the introduction of charter schools in North Carolina also coincided with an increase in test scores in non-charter schools.

In 1996-7, North Carolina had no charter schools. Three years later its 91 charter schools had enrolled 14,899 students, about 1 percent of the state’s total public school enrollment.

Such changes as this are often considered “natural experiments” by economists. Since laboratory experiments are difficult for economics, such events often provide good tests for public policies. In this case, the test to see if increased competition for students resulted in an overall improvement in school quality.

In Does School Choice Increase School Quality? (NBER Working Paper No. 9683), George Holmes, Jeff DeSimone, and Nicholas Rupp use end of year test scores for grades three through eight from North Carolina’s statewide testing program to explore whether the competition provided by charter schools had any effect on the test scores in public schools run by school districts.–bold in the original

Of course, more research is necessary, but it seems that some form of competition does help improve school quality.

FILED UNDER: Economics and Business, Education, ,
Steve Verdon
About Steve Verdon
Steve has a B.A. in Economics from the University of California, Los Angeles and attended graduate school at The George Washington University, leaving school shortly before staring work on his dissertation when his first child was born. He works in the energy industry and prior to that worked at the Bureau of Labor Statistics in the Division of Price Index and Number Research. He joined the staff at OTB in November 2004.


  1. caltechgirl says:

    great, but our local news reported a few months ago that scores were down in charter schools. So doesn’t that indicate that the lower kids just moved from mainstream to charter?

  2. caltechgirl says:

    BTW I live in Chapel Hill, NC

  3. Steve says:

    According to summary of the article it was the higher scoring children that went ot charter schools.

    The authors find that charter school competition raised the composite test scores in district schools, even though the students leaving district schools for the charters tended to have above average test scores.

    Also, the results of the research are for grades 3 – 8. What grades did the news story cover?