Why California is Losing the Competitiveness Race in Education

California’s education establishment dislikes competition but the most recent research shows that, in the education marketplace, competition works.  A March 2011 study by the Foundation for Educational Choice (FEC) analyzed the results of all empirical studies that used the best scientific methods to measure how school-choice vouchers affect the academic outcomes of participating students.  The results should serve as a beacon as California policymakers debate ways to improve the state’s poorly performing government-run school system.

Under voucher programs, a state attaches funding to a student, which he or she can take to the public or private school of his or her choice. The study concluded, “Contrary to the widespread claim that vouchers do not benefit participants and hurt public schools, the empirical evidence consistently shows that vouchers improve outcomes for both participants and public schools.”

According to the FEC study, nine out of the 10 studies found that vouchers improved student outcome measurements such as test scores in the core subjects and graduation rates.  In addition, by increasing competition between public and private schools, voucher programs forced public school systems to improve.

Eighteen of the 19 empirical studies that looked at how vouchers affect public schools found that public schools improved their performance in the face of the increased competition fostered by vouchers.  In fact, every empirical study conducted in states with voucher programs, such as Wisconsin, Ohio and Florida, has found that “voucher programs in those places improved public schools.”  The FEC study said that while there are a variety of reasons why vouchers might improve public school performance, “The most important is that competition from vouchers introduces healthy incentives for public schools to improve.”  Yet, California has erected barriers to widespread competition in education.

Over the last few years, voucher and other pro-school-choice legislation have died in the state Legislature.  Now, with Democrats controlling the Assembly, Senate and the governor’s office, liberal legislators have unleashed a flood of anti-choice bills.  For example, AB 401 by Assemblyman Tom Ammiano (D-San Francisco) caps the number of charter schools, deregulated public schools started by parents, teachers and community organizations.  Ammiano’s bill targets charters despite the reality that they are four times more likely than regular public schools to be among the top 5 percent of schools statewide in student achievement.  Current California regulations also block students from choosing online and virtual education alternatives.

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