School Choice is Important Because Every Student is Different
June 28, 2011 1 Comment
Ask somebody why school choice is important and they’ll cite free market principles and the role of competition in eliminating under-performing schools. What they won’t mention is a much simpler reason for why choice is good: Giving students options allows them to find a better social situation.
Two recent studies help illustrate why this is important. In the first study researchers found that four measures of peer relationships — peer acceptance, presence/absence of a best friend, number of friends, and perceived peer support — were significant predictors of a student’s “liking” of school. Essentially, when students have friends they’re more likely to enjoy school. Because students who enjoy school are more likely to achieve, giving students the opportunity to go to a bunch of different schools allows them to increase achievement through an improved social situation.
The second study looked at how the racial composition of schools influences academic achievement. The researchers found that in diverse schools students performed better on tests when they had more peers of the same race or ethnicity. Once again, students are more likely to have racially similar peers, and thus better test scores, when they have the opportunity to attend different schools.
It’s rare to hear people mention the social impact on individuals when discussing school choice because we tend to focus on the macro-benefits (e.g. driving a bad school of out business) and ignore the micro-benefits (e.g. being able to have friends at school). The consensus seems to be that it’s a travesty if students are forced to attend a school with below average history scores, but irrelevant if a student is forced to attend a school where he has no friends.
The studies above highlight the social benefits that school choice can provide, and it’s important to consider these benefits because without understanding the unique situations of individuals we cannot properly quantify the costs and benefits of school choice.