Opponents of school choice often argue that expanding school options is detrimental to public schools. However, a new study on New York City Public Schools found that close proximity charter schools are increasing public school students’ test scores.
The peer-reviewed analysis done by Templeton professor Sarah Cordes found that charter schools within a mile of public schools increase the academic performance of public school students. In turn, the grade retention rate is decreased.
The study found that public schools students in close proximity to charter schools experienced higher math and reading scores. The closer the schools, the more visible the results — seen most when schools shared a building.
“The closer the school is, the more it’s on the minds of the people in the building,” Cordes told The 74, an educational nonprofit.
These results held true, no matter the school’s quality.
“Just the presence of an alternative does it,” she said. “It doesn’t really matter how great that alternative is—it’s just the fact that that alternative is there, it’s in the building, and people see it every day.”
Furthermore, Cordes’ study found that when schools share a building with a charter school, public schools have 20-to-40 percent fewer students held back for academic performance.
The report found that co-located schools boosted public school student’s engagement and safety levels. Meanwhile, teachers reported higher academic expectations and respect.
Cordes cited competition for the increased performance, but also suggested increased per-student spending as being a factor due to students transferring schools. Co-location public schools increased said spending by nine percent, while those within a mile increased spending by almost five percent.
Neal McCluskey, director of Cato Institutes’ Center for Educational Freedom, explained the argument against school choice.
“The common argument is that school choice takes money from public schools and therefore leaves less money to educate traditional public school students,” McCluskey told Red Alert Politics.
However, he said that school choice actually does the opposite because competing schools only receive a portion of the full per-pupil allotment. The remaining money stays in the school district.
McCluskey further explained why competition increased academic scores.
“Traditional public schools feel competitive pressure, something that they didn’t experience before school choice,” McCluskey explained. “And it’s immediate pressure because school choice says [students] get to vote with their feet, which is immediate accountability for the traditional public school they are leaving. So those schools feel some pressure to improve, and they do.”
He suggested a solution to current academic struggles.
“We ultimately need a system that is fully based on school choice where money is attached to students, and they take it to whatever school their parents choose,” McCluskey said. “The competitive effect of ‘if you lose a student, you lose the money to educate them and you have to get that money to stay in business’ — that is a major incentive for schools and people in the schools to do the best they can.”
“We want to move away from the socialist model of public schools get your money no matter how they perform and then you get that service for free,” McCluskey continued. “Outside of education in socialist economies, we’ve seen how that tends to fail.”
The study concluded that schools in close proximity are mutually beneficial and that further research is needed in other cities.