Civics Exam: Schools of Choice Boost Civic Values
Patrick J. Wolf, Ph.D.
Professor and 21st Century Chair in School Choice
Department of Education Reform
College of Education and Health Professions
201 Graduate Education Building
University of Arkansas
Program on Education Policy and Governance
Civics Exam: Schools of Choice Boost Civic Values
Patrick J. Wolf
Complete Version of Study Reported in Education Next 7:3, Summer 20071
For centuries scholars and policymakers have debated the question of whether assigned government-run
public schools have a comparative advantage over public schools of choice and private schools in
steeping their charges in the civic values necessary for democratic citizenship. The theoretical argument
in favor of such an advantage is both intuitive and popular. Political philosophers from Benjamin Rush to
John Dewey, as well as the more contemporary Benjamin Barber, Amy Gutmann, Eamonn Callan, and
Stephen Macedo, argue that diverse public schools are ideally if not uniquely situated to inculcate civic
values in American students.2 As free government schools, open to all on equal terms, public schools
make an important statement about equality, a fundamental democratic value. Because all students in a
particular community traditionally are assigned to a specific school, public schools are “common
schools,” where children from various backgrounds gather to learn about social cooperation and the
toleration of differences. Finally, public schools are, well, public, and the government operation and
political control of them ensures that society’s interests in promoting civic values are advanced. The
former education secretary Richard Riley aptly captures this argument when he says that civic values are
“conveyed not only through what is taught in the classroom, but by the very experience of attending [a
public] school with a diverse mix of students.”3
Supporters of school choice and of the option of private schooling are not persuaded by these
arguments. They draw upon the theories of Thomas Paine, Alexis de Tocqueville, and John Stuart Mill in
claiming that parentally chosen public schools and even private schools are laboratories of democracy as
much as, and perhaps even more than, traditional public schools.4 Charles Glenn argues that
neighborhood public schools are not actually open to all and that the common school vision is largely a
myth.5 The geographic boundaries that determine public school assignment transform neighborhoods into
walled communities, where entry into quality public schools comes at the cost of a residence in the
neighborhood - a cost that is often prohibitive for families of modest means. Jay Greene and Nicole
Mellow argue that the walled communities created by neighborhood assignment to public schools results
in the exact opposite of what public school advocates seek: traditional public schools are less likely to
contain a diverse mix of students than are schools of choice, and within schools, students of different
racial backgrounds are more likely to segregate themselves by race if they have been assigned to their
school.6 As communitarians such as Anthony Bryk and libertarians such as Stephen Gilles argue, schools
of choice are more likely than assigned schools to be communities of equality and social cooperation
because they are freely chosen.7 Their writings provoke the question, How could having the government
tell students where they can and cannot go to school possibly be the first step in preparing them for
autonomous citizenship in a democracy?
This theoretical argument remains largely unresolved at least partly because neither side has had
recourse to much empirical evidence to support their claims. As Macedo states, “The comparative success
of different types of schools at teaching civic values is not much studied.”8 That assessment was accurate
at the time of his writing. However, since that time a number of rigorous empirical studies of the effects
of school choice on civic values have been published as articles or research reports. It is time to take stock
of the evidentiary record surrounding the question of whether or not assigned public schooling better
prepares students for their responsibilities as democratic citizens. That is my purpose here.
A Meta-Analysis of School Choice and Civic Values
For this systematic review, I examine 59 findings from 21 quantitative studies regarding the effects of
school choice on seven civic values that relate to the capacity of individuals to perform as effective
citizens in our representative democracy. The values, in order from the most studied to the least studied,
• Political tolerance - the willingness to extend the full slate of civil liberties even to people and
groups that one dislikes,
• Voluntarism - the contribution of one’s time, without material compensation, to support the
activities of a charity or community organization,
• Political knowledge - a basic understanding of the U.S. political system and an awareness of
current events and political leaders,
• Political participation - the exercise of a number of citizenship responsibilities, including voting,
attending public meetings, and contacting government representatives,
• Social capital - the extent to which a person is networked within their community,
• Civic skills - experience in and confidence with activities such as public speaking and letter
writing that can be used to influence the political process, and
• Patriotism - a visceral positive connection to one’s country and respect for its national symbols
Each of the studies examined the effect of private schooling or school choice arrangements on
student outcomes regarding one or more of these important democratic values. With the exception of
voluntarism, which was sometimes measured by a simple question regarding whether or not a respondent
had volunteered recently, the measures of the other civic values were based upon multiple responses to
survey questions that were then consolidated into a summated scale or index.9 For example, in the
studies of political tolerance, respondents were first asked which political group they least liked and then
were asked a series of questions regarding what legal activities they would permit members of their least-
liked group to engage in.10 The higher the number of rights they would be willing to extend to someone
with whom they disagreed, the higher would be their tolerance scale score.
Figure 1 summarizes the distribution of findings from the studies of the effects of private
schooling (most of the studies) or the practice of public school choice on the civic values of the students
or parents in private or choice schools relative to those of comparable students or parents in assigned
public schools. The individual studies are examined more extensively in, and listed at the end of, the
appendix to this article.
A finding is categorized as indicating a “Traditional Public School Advantage” in Figure 1 if the
evidence suggests that private schooling or the exercise of choice produced a statistically significant (at
the 90 percent confidence level or better) reduction in the realization of the particular civic value.
Findings of no significant effect of private schooling or choice on a particular civic value are classified as
“Neutral.” Finally, statistically significant results that indicate school choice enhances a civic value are
classified as signaling a “Choice School Advantage.”
Each finding summarized in Figure 1 is taken from a large-sample statistical analysis of the effect
of school choice or private schooling on one or more civic values. A specific study generated multiple
findings if it examined the effects of different varieties of school choice arrangements (e.g. private
schools and public charter schools) on a single civic outcome, presented the results of a single school
choice arrangement on multiple civic outcomes, or presented findings from various choice arrangements
on multiple civic outcomes. The unit of analysis, therefore, was a discreet finding regarding the effect of
a particular kind of school choice arrangement on a specific civic outcome compared to outcomes
produced by traditional public schools.
Most of the studies that met the methodological standards for inclusion in the analysis focus on
students in private schools. Only six of the 59 results pertain to students in charter or magnet schools.
This circumstance is somewhat surprising, as magnet schools are often justified as instruments for
promoting greater cohesion among students of various racial backgrounds in a given community, and
empirical studies of magnet schools tend to focus upon the effects on minority group isolation and student
test scores.11 Aside from David Campbell’s studies of the National Household Education Survey
(included in this analysis), I am not aware of any other evaluations of magnet schools that take the
additional step of determining if the intermediate effects of such schools on integration and achievement
translate into higher levels of civic values for their students. Charter schools are sufficiently new to the
educational scene that large N studies of their effects on civic values have yet to establish a significant
presence in the literature. Therefore, the results described below primarily map out the effects of private
schooling on civic values.
As can be seen in Figure 1, 56 of the 59 results from the studies suggest that the general effect of
private schooling or school choice on civic values trends neutral-to-positive. A total of 33 findings (56
percent) support the position that private schooling or school choice arrangements actually enhance civic
values relative to assigned public schools. Twenty-three neutral results appear in the studies (39 percent
of all findings), indicating that school choice neither increased nor decreased the civic values of students.
Only three findings of a significant traditional public schooling advantage are reported in the studies (5
percent of all findings). As a whole, these 59 statistical findings suggest that the effects of school choice
on civic values tend, in almost all cases, to be either positive or nil.
The distribution of findings regarding the effects of school choice on civic values hardly varies by
the specific civic value being evaluated, with the exception of patriotism. The lone patriotism finding
suggests that traditional public schools outperform schools of choice in fostering that particular value;12
however, one should be cautious in drawing firm conclusions from a single study. The effects of private
schooling and school choice on the remaining six civic values are informed by four or more separate
findings, and the results for political tolerance, voluntarism, political knowledge, political participation,
social capital, and civic skills all consistently trend neutral-to-positive.
Considering Possible Selection Bias
Not all studies reviewed here are equally rigorous in their design and execution, although all met minimal
empirical standards. In education studies perhaps the greatest threat to the validity of an analysis is
selection bias. Relatively advantaged parents tend to place their children in more effective educational
environments. Often, though by no means exclusively, those environments are private schools. If one
merely compares the civic values of parents or students in public versus private schools, one might
improperly attribute to private schooling influences that actually are the result of more fundamental
familial advantages. To even be considered in this review, a study had to employ some acceptable
technique to rule out familial advantage as a cause of the civic values outcomes that were uncovered.
Four different techniques were employed in the studies reviewed here to address problems of
selection bias. One was to randomly assign participants to the treatment group (for example, “offered
private school scholarship”) or the control group (“not offered scholarship”) before assessing impacts.
Such randomized field trials are considered to be the gold standard of educational research, since the
randomization process ensures that the two comparison groups are similar, on average, in all respects
except for the application of the treatment of private schooling.13 For randomized field trials to produce
conclusive and reliable information about the efficacy of an educational intervention, however, several
conditions must be in place:
1. A large number of subjects must participate in the study,
2. High percentages of the treatment group must actually avail themselves of the treatment,
3. Low percentages (ideally, none) of the control group must obtain the treatment on their own, and
4. A large and representative sample of the treatment and control group must return for follow-up
A randomized field trial with all four of these characteristics “meets evidence standards” for valid causal
inference without reservation according to the conservative What Works Clearinghouse (WWC) Evidence
Standards for Reviewing [Education] Studies. Randomized trials of educational interventions with small-
to-moderate shortcomings in any of these four areas “meet evidence standards with reservations”
according to the WWC guidelines.14 The five randomized field trials reviewed here vary somewhat in the
extent to which these key conditions obtained (see appendix), and thus in whether or not they would be
graded “meets evidence standards” or “meets evidence standards with reservations.” Still, the fact that
five experimental studies already exist to speak to the question of how school choice impacts civic values
suggests that we have more highly reliable information about this issue than we do about most causal
questions in the educational arena.
Absent experimental designs, some research summarized here employed a matching technique,
an instrumental variable technique, or both methods to control for possible selection bias. Under the
matching approach, the school districts or schools whose populations are to be compared are first matched
on important characteristics, such as race and income demographics, before data are collected.
Instrumental variable analysis, in contrast, is a technique employed after data collection to purge data of
possible selection bias by replacing an explanatory variable that is likely tainted by selection bias with a
related “instrumental” variable that is expected to be free of bias. To be successful in properly correcting
for selection bias, the instrumental variable used must be highly correlated with the biased condition (such
as private schooling) but uncorrelated with the outcome in the analysis (such as a particular civic value).15
Thus the studies that employ this strategy and/or a matching approach to control for selection bias were
evaluated based upon the effectiveness of the instruments and matching criteria that were used.
The conclusions one draws from the population of findings changes only slightly if one focuses
exclusively on those produced by the more rigorous methodologies (Figure 1a). Half of the 24 findings
from rigorous studies indicate that schools of choice produce significantly higher levels of civic values in
their students than do comparable traditional public schools. An additional 10 rigorous findings (42
percent) suggest that neither choice nor traditional public schools hold a civic values advantage. Two
findings from a study that used matching techniques signal that traditional public schools outperformed
secular private schools in promoting voluntarism and private schools in general in fostering patriotism.16
The effects of schools of choice on civic values appear somewhat rosier when only the findings
from observational studies that use basic demographic controls are considered (Figure 1b). Sixty percent
of the 35 findings from such studies indicate a school choice advantage; and, an additional 37 percent
signal no difference between assigned public and schools of choice in advancing civic values. One study
that used basic demographic controls (3 percent of all such findings) reported a traditional public
schooling advantage in political tolerance compared with non-Catholic religious private schools.17
This pattern of results – with a distribution somewhat more favorable to choice schools when
only results from basic observational studies are examined – suggests that selection bias is a factor in the
relationship between schools of choice and civic outcomes. It appears, though, to be a minor factor. If
self-selection bias were the primary cause of the positive results for schools of choice, then we would
expect the distribution of results from the studies that control explicitly for such bias to differ more
markedly from the results from the basic observational studies in the review. They do not. The evidence is
both strong and consistent that something about attending private or public schools of choice is producing
civic outcomes that are generally as good as or better than those generated by attending assigned public
The Catholic Schooling Effect
Is Catholic schooling largely responsible for the generally positive school choice effects on civic values?
A slim majority of students educated in private schools are in Catholic schools. Among the subset of
religious private schools, Catholic schools dominate the field. Students who switched from public to
private schools in the randomized field trials reviewed for this study primarily chose Catholic schools.18
Privately schooled Latinos, who demonstrate significant advantages vis-à-vis publicly schooled Latinos in
their levels of several civic values, are predominantly educated in Catholic schools. Thus the generally
positive school choice effects on civic values outlined in Figure 1 might be more properly characterized
specifically as Catholic schooling effects. Several prominent scholars have made such claims in the
If it is true that Catholic schools are the only schools of choice that outperform traditional public
schools in promoting civic values, then the change in levels of citizenship preparation wrought by future
expansions of school choice could be nil or even negative, should proportionately fewer new choosers
select Catholic schools. Although highly speculative (recent expansions of school choice in urban settings
have generated a veritable stampede to Catholic schools) this possibility is worth examining. What might
happen if Catholic schools (and the Latinos who strongly prefer them) were entirely excluded from a
program to expand school choice? Would the likely effects of choice on political tolerance, voluntarism,
and other democratic values disappear or turn negative with Catholic schools out of the picture?
Figure 2 provides the findings from Figure 1 excluding all results based on comparisons between
public school populations and any private school population that includes Catholic schools or focuses
exclusively on the experiences of Latinos. Only about half of the findings from Figure 1 remain in Figure
2, so Figure 2 provides a sketchier portrait of the effects of school choice on civic values, since it
deliberately excludes the most commonly studied school choice option. Nevertheless, we are still left with
a set of results which clusters in the neutral-to-positive range. Twenty-two positive school choice results
remain, suggesting for example that secular private schooling enhances political tolerance, that charter
schooling increases voluntarism and social capital, and that education at an evangelical private school
increases political knowledge. Twenty findings indicate that school choice has no clear effect, positive or
negative, when schools besides Catholic schools are chosen.
The three negative choice findings remain from the earlier figure, suggesting that evangelical
Protestant schools reduce political tolerance, that secular private schools decrease voluntarism, and that
private schooling of any sort may diminish a particularly passionate form of patriotism. Non-Catholic
schools of choice seem to be responsible for the only negative effects of choice on civic values. However,
non-Catholic schools of choice also appear to generate many positive outcomes regarding democratic
values. These results suggest that the expansion of school choice is more likely to enhance than diminish
the civic values of our next generation of citizens, even if none of the new choosers end up in
communitarian infused Catholic schools.
The definitive study of the effects of private schooling and school choice on civic values remains to be
completed. Although all of the studies reviewed here have a number of methodological strengths, they
also all suffer from at least some empirical limitations (see appendix). Moreover, the studies all draw
upon data either about the various school sectors as they existed in the 1980s and 1990s or from modestly
sized school choice experiments. The demographic composition of the various school sectors and the
independent effects of private schooling and school choice on the civic values reviewed here would likely
change somewhat under a complete or even larger-scale school choice regime. Therefore, one should be
cautious in drawing strong conclusions from the empirical record to date on school choice and civic
The empirical picture regarding the effects of school choice on civic values is not entirely rosy.
The lone study on the question indicates that public schools may hold an advantage over schools of
choice in fostering patriotism. In one study, attending private secular schools apparently reduced the
likelihood of volunteering. Attending an evangelical Protestant school was found to decrease political
tolerance in one study and increase political knowledge in another, causing scholars such as Steve
Macedo to worry that the combination of the two effects produces young adults who are strongly
equipped to act politically on their intolerance.20 The Madrassa schools of radical Islam remind us that
under certain conditions private schools of choice can serve to undermine democratic values. With such
concerns in mind, it would appear reasonable to require some minimal oversight and regulatory
constraints on private schools that accept public monies, such as prohibitions against teaching hate, to
ease common fears that expanding school choice might undermine the public purposes of education. John
Witte, for one, has argued that parents will rarely place their children in such extremist schools, and the
media would quickly expose any that tried to participate in a voucher program.21 With parents and
reporters keeping watch on choice schools in the U.S., it would seem that only limited government
restrictions would be needed to keep a Klu Klux Klan school from thriving in a choice program.
As important as these concerns are, the empirical record to date tends to suggest that civic values
are enhanced, or at least not harmed, by the exercise of school choice, especially if results from Catholic
schools and the populations that frequent them are included in the mix. The three negative choice effects
uncovered are based on empirical studies that lack random assignment. None of those three negative
results has been replicated but several of the positive private school results have been. A large number
(23) of null findings are reported, at least one for six of the seven civic values considered. However, for
every civic value studied, except patriotism, at least one empirical study reports that at least certain types
of choice schools actually do a better job than public schools in fostering the skills and attitudes that are
important to citizenship. Just as the three negative results reported should give us some pause and inform
our deliberations about sound choice regulations, the thirty-three positive results should inform us about
the likely beneficial effects of greater school choice.
What aspects of choice schools generate the modestly positive civic values outcomes featured in
this analysis? On that point, both the theoretical and empirical literatures require further development.
Coleman and Hoffer, John Brandl, and others theorize that schools of choice foster stronger educational
communities typified by regular parental involvement and a concern for the welfare of all members.22
Schools of choice are voluntary associations where parents, students, and educators come together to
pursue a shared enterprise. As Charles Glenn argues, “Schools that truly belong to the parents who send
their children provide settings of unparalleled intensity for the development of the habits of responsible
activity on the part of adults and children alike.”23 Some empirical evidence exists, outside of their own
studies, confirming their claims about school choice and the nature of communities that it fosters.
Specifically, a report from a major longitudinal evaluation of school choice indicates that parents become
more involved in their child’s school if they have selected it.24 However, the three-city experimental
evaluation of school voucher impacts led by Howell and Peterson reports mixed results regarding the
effects of choice on parental involvement and social capital.25 School choice may foster stronger civic
values because of greater parental involvement, but it also may boost students’ preparation for citizenship
even while parental involvement remains unaffected.
If parental involvement and the resulting levels of social capital are not necessarily the cause of
the general private schooling advantage regarding school choice, and if family background characteristics
are largely eliminated as a cause for the outcomes analyzed in this study, then what else might explain
these results? Teachers in private schools may be freer to infuse instruction with moral values and discuss
controversial issues that are considered too risky for public school teachers to broach.26 Students who
regularly encounter value-based claims and perspectives may become more tolerant of people with value-
based positions that differ from their own. They also may feel more motivated to volunteer for activities
that seek to bring about social and political change. Research in the Netherlands suggests that exposure to
a value-rich educational environment is an important motive for parents to exercise school choice.27
Belgium even provides government subsidies to “pluralistic” schools of choice that define their mission
as producing “an open mind which acknowledges and respects diversity of opinions and attitudes, and
which, despite this diversity, emphasizes common values.”28 Such claims remain highly speculative in the
United States, however. Although most studies of school choice programs indicate that parents are more
satisfied with the teaching of morality in their child’s new private school, field-based studies have yet to
confirm that the moral content of education in private schools differs markedly from that in public schools
or to link any such differences specifically to positive civic values outcomes.29
Do schools of choice promote somewhat higher levels of civic values simply because they tend to
be more effective schools? A certain level of sophistication may be necessary, particularly for political
tolerance, which requires that the person distinguish between opposing a group’s views while still
allowing it to seek to advance those views in the public arena. Niemi and Junn argue that the single
greatest predictor of the political knowledge of adults is their level of educational attainment.30 Private
schooling is increasingly credited with increasing educational attainment, especially for disadvantaged
students.31 By keeping students in school longer, private schools and other schools of choice unwittingly
might be putting them on the path to greater preparation for democratic citizenship.
The most novel, and in my opinion most intriguing, explanation for the apparent school choice
advantage in promoting civic values is tied to the generally higher levels of order and discipline in
schools of choice. Public charter schools and private schools tend to be better ordered educational
institutions than neighborhood public schools, especially in urban environments.32 A well-ordered and
non-threatening educational environment likely contributes to students’ feelings of security and
confidence. Such feelings might be a necessary precondition for young people to develop a willingness to
tolerate potentially disruptive political ideas and political groups and to venture out into the community to
promote social causes, an idea suggested by Alan Peshkin in his case study of a Christian fundamentalist
school.33 Conversely, students who are educated in less safe and less predictable environments may
develop strong fears of controversial political groups and ideas and, as a result, hesitate to become
involved in their communities or in political activities. By first establishing a safe and ordered educational
environment for students, private and public schools of choice could also be laying the foundation for
students to become more engaged and tolerant citizens. Moreover, a physically safe and secure
environment may be the most effective setting for highlighting value-rich moral discussions, which might
be considered too explosive in less secure environments. I am not aware of any rigorous empirical field
studies that clearly connect a well-ordered educational environment with stronger civic values. However,
there is a clear theoretical justification for the link, and I hope that future studies will explore it.
The fact that we cannot pinpoint the exact mechanisms that lead schools of choice generally to
produce young adults with somewhat higher levels of civic values should not diminish the importance of
what has been learned. At a minimum, the results of the empirical studies fail to confirm the fears of some
opponents of choice who claim that private schooling inherently and inevitably undermines the fostering
of civic values in a democracy. The statistical record thus far suggests that private schooling and school
choice rarely harms and often enhances the realization of the civic values that are central to a well-
functioning democracy. This seems to be the case particularly among ethnic minorities (such as Latinos),
in places with great ethnic diversity (such as New York City and Texas), and when Catholic schools are
the school of choice. Choice programs targeted to such constituencies seem to hold the greatest promise
of enhancing the civic values of the next generation of American citizens.
1. An earlier version of this meta-analysis, based on 19 studies, appeared as Patrick J. Wolf, “School
Choice and Civic Values,” in Getting Choice Right: Ensuring Equity and Efficiency in Education Policy,
edited by Julian R. Betts and Tom Loveless (Washington, DC: The Brookings Institution Press, 2005).
2. See Benjamin Rush, “A Plan for the Establishment of Public Schools and the Diffusion of Knowledge
in Pennsylvania; To Which Are Added, Thoughts upon the Mode of Education, Proper in a Republic.
Addressed to the Legislature and Citizens of the State,” in Essays on Education in the Early Republic,
edited by Frederick Rudolph (Belknap Press, 1965); John Dewey, Democracy and Education (New York:
Macmillan, 1963 ); Benjamin Barber, A Place for Us (New York: Hill and Wang, 1998); Amy
Gutmann, Democratic Education (Princeton University Press, 1987); Eamonn Callon, Creating Citizens:
Political Education and Liberal Democracy (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1997); and Stephen Macedo,
Diversity and Distrust: Civic Education in a Multicultural Democracy (Harvard University Press, 2000).
3. Richard W. Riley, “What Really Matters in American Education,” white paper prepared for U.S.
Secretary of Education Richard W. Riley for speech given at the National Press Club, Washington,
September 23 1997 (www.ed.gov/Speeches/09-1997/matters.pdf).
4. See Thomas Paine, “The Rights of Man, Part II,” in Political Writings, edited by Bruce Kuklick
(Cambridge University Press, 1989), p. 145; Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America, edited by J.
P. Mayer (New York: Harper and Row, 1969); and John Stuart Mill, Utilitarianism, On Liberty, Essay on
Bentham: Together with Selected Writings of Jeremy Bentham and John Austin, edited by Mary Warnock
(New York: New American Library, 1974), pp. 238--41.
5. Charles Leslie Glenn, The Myth of the Common School (University of Massachusetts Press, 1988).
6. Jay P. Greene and Nicole Mellow, “Integration Where It Counts,” Texas Education Review 1, no. 1
7. Anthony S. Bryk, Valerie E. Lee, and Peter Holland, Catholic Schools and the Common Good
(Harvard University Press, 1993); Stephen Gilles, “On Educating Children: A Parentalist Manifesto,”
University of Chicago Law Review 63 (Summer 1996):937-1034..
8. Macedo, Diversity and Distrust, p. 234.
9. For a description of the methodology commonly used in such studies, see Paul E. Spector. 1992.
Summated Rating Scale Construction: An Introduction (Newbury Park, CA: Sage Publications).
10. For examples of early applications of this technique, see John L. Sullivan, James Pierson, and George
E. Marcus, Political Tolerance and American Democracy (University of Chicago Press, 1982); and
George E. Marcus and others, With Malice towards Some: How People Make Civil Liberties Judgments
(Cambridge University Press, 1995).
11. For example see American Institute for Research, “Executive Summary,” in Evaluation of the Magnet
Schools Assistance Program, 1998 Grantees: Final Report
(www.ed.gov/print/rschstat/eval/choice/magneteval/finalexecsum.html [August 8, 2004]).
12. Patrick J. Wolf et al. 1998. “Democratic Values in New York City Schools.” Report of the Workshop
in Applied Policy Analysis, School of International and Public Affairs, Columbia University.
13. William G. Howell and Paul E. Peterson, with Patrick J. Wolf and David E. Campbell, The Education
Gap: Vouchers and Urban Schools (Brookings, 2002), pp. 39--43.
14. Available at http://www.whatworks.ed.gov/reviewprocess/study_standards_final.pdf.
15. Michael P. Murray. 2006. “Avoiding Invalid Instruments and Coping with Weak Instruments.”
Journal of Economic Perspectives 20:4 (Fall), pp. 111-32.
16. Wolf et al. 1998. “Democratic Values in New York City…”
17. David E. Campbell. 2002. “The Civic Side of School Reform: How Do School Vouchers Affect Civic
Education?” Working Paper of the Center for the Study of Democratic Politics, Princeton, NJ, April 16.
18. Although a mere majority (53 percent) of participants in the Children Scholarship Fund program
switched to Catholic schools, 72 percent of the participants in Washington, 77 percent of the participants
in Dayton, and 84 percent of the participants in New York City selected Catholic schools (see Howell and
Peterson, The Education Gap, p. 37).
19. Coleman and Hoffer, Public and Private High Schools; Bryk, Lee, and Holland, Catholic Schools and
the Common Good.
20. Macdeo, Diversity and Distrust…, pp. 262-263.
21. John F. Witte, “Regulation in Public and Private Schools in the U.S.” in Educating Citizens:
International Perspectives on Civic Values and School Choice, edited by Patrick J. Wolf and Stephen Macedo, with
David J. Ferrero and Charles E. Venegoni (Brookings, 2004), pp. 355-356.
22. Coleman and Hoffer, Public and Private High Schools; John E. Brandl, Money and Good Intentions
Are Not Enough (Brookings, 1998); Bryk, Lee, and Holland, Catholic Schools and the Common Good.
23. Charles Leslie Glenn, “School Choice as a Question of Design,” in Educating Citizens: International
Perspectives on Civic Values and School Choice, edited by Patrick J. Wolf and Stephen Macedo, with
David J. Ferrero and Charles E. Venegoni (Brookings, 2004).
24. National Center for Education Statistics, Trends in the Use of School Choice, 1993 to 1999: Statistical
Analysis Report, National Household Education Survey 2003-031 (Institute for Education Sciences, U.S.
Department of Education, 2003), table 7.
25. Howell and Peterson, The Education Gap, pp. 114--39.
26. See Lee H. Ehman, “The American School in the Political Socialization Process,” Review of
Educational Research 50 (1980): 99--119; Gutmann, Democratic Education, p. 65; Quentin L. Quade,
Financing Education: The Struggle between Governmental Monopoly and Parental Control (New
Brunswick, N.J.: Transaction, 1996). Neimi and Junn, Civic Education, p. 156.
27. See for example Anne Bert Dijkstra, Jaap Dronkers and Sjoerd Karsten, “Private Schools as Public
Provision for Education: School Choice and Marketization in the Netherlands,” in Educating Citizens:
International Perspectives on Civic Values and School Choice, edited by Patrick J. Wolf and Stephen
Macedo, with David J. Ferrero and Charles E. Venegoni (Brookings, 2004).
28. Jan De Groof, “Regulating School Choice in Belgium’s Flemish Community,” in Educating Citizens:
International Perspectives on Civic Values and School Choice, edited by Patrick J. Wolf and Stephen
Macedo, with David J. Ferrero and Charles E. Venegoni (Brookings, 2004), p. 172.
29. For example, see John F. Witte, The Market Approach to Education (Princeton University Press,
2000); Howell and Peterson, The Education Gap, p. 173.
30. Neimi and Junn, Civic Education, p. 13.
31. William Evans and Robert Schwab, “Finishing High School and Starting College: Do Catholic
Schools Make a Difference?” Quarterly Journal of Economics 110 (1995), pp. 947-974; Derek Neal,
“The Effects of Catholic Secondary Schooling on Educational Achievement,” Journal of Labor
Economics 15 (1997), pp. 98-123.
32. See, for example, Howell and Peterson, The Education Gap; and Witte, The Market Approach to
33. Alan Peshkin, God's Choice: The Total World of a Fundamentalist Christian School (University of
Chicago Press, 1986).
Appendix – Descriptive Review and Bibliography of The 21 Studies Analyzed
In “Civics Exam: Schools of Choice Boost Civic Values”
A. Descriptive Review
What specific civic values appear to be most affected by school choice programs? How rigorous are the
studies that produced this surprising distribution of findings regarding school choice and civic values? In
this appendix we consider these important questions in the context of a critical methodological review of
the findings. The review is organized by the specific civic value being evaluated, in the order of the most
studied to the least studied values, since many of the researchers explicitly built upon the methods and
findings of others.
Studies of Political Tolerance
Of the important civic values considered here, the effect of school choice on the willingness of people to
extend constitutional rights to disliked political groups has been studied the most. The popularity of
studying political tolerance is partly due to its importance as a civic value and partly because researchers
have developed a reliable protocol for measuring a person’s political tolerance. Respondents are first
asked to either think of their least-liked political group or select one from a list (which tends to include
the Ku Klux Klan, Nazis, Communists, prolife groups, prochoice groups, civil rights groups, radical
Islamists, and the religious Right). Respondents then are asked if they agree or disagree (and how
strongly) with a series of questions about extending legal rights to their least-liked group. The questions
generally ask whether the respondent would permit members of the disliked group to exercise
constitutional rights such as making a public speech, running for political office, and teaching in the
public schools. Responses are aggregated into a tolerance scale, which becomes the dependent variable
for the exploration of what factors explain variation in political tolerance.
With one exception, the findings regarding the effect of school choice on political tolerance are
confined to the neutral-to-positive range. Five empirical studies conclude that private schooling has a
positive effect on political tolerance, regardless of the type of private school attended. Jay Greene, Joseph
Giammo, and Nicole Mellow (1999a) studied the effects of private schooling on the political tolerance
specifically of Latinos. The authors drew upon the Latino National Political Survey, a nationally
representative sample of over 3,400 ethnic Latinos who were interviewed in 1989 regarding a number of
factors, including their willingness to tolerate disliked political groups. Specifically, they were asked to
choose their least-liked group from a standard list and then were asked if they would permit members of
that group to stage a public rally, hold public office, or teach in the public schools.
Respondents also were asked how many years of their education occurred in private schools in
the United States. Controlling for country of origin, parental education, gender, age, years of residence in
the United States, income, and the respondent’s education, the authors find that Latinos who received
more of their education in U.S. private schools tend to display slightly higher levels of political tolerance.
The independent effect of twelve years of private schooling on political tolerance is estimated to be 0.2 of
a standard deviation, a modest effect, which is statistically significant beyond the 95 percent confidence
interval. Two possible shortcomings in this analysis are that a few potential confounding factors, such as
political ideology, are omitted from the analytic models and that the models themselves explain only 2
percent of the variation in the political tolerance scale scores. Also, missing data limit the analysis to less
than 2,000 of the respondents in the sample.
Patrick Wolf, Paul Peterson, and Martin West (2001) used an abridged version of the political
tolerance scale to study the effect of switching to a private school on the tolerance of low-income middle
school students in Washington, D.C. They surveyed students regarding whether they definitely would
permit people whose views they opposed to, one, give a speech in their community; two, live in their
neighborhood; and three, run for president. The students in the private school treatment group are more
likely to give the tolerant response to all three questions than are members of the public school control
group. The size of the differences ranges from 16 percent for giving a speech to 20 percent for living in
their community, and all are statistically significant at least at the 90 percent confidence level. The
strength of this study is that the students were randomly assigned to treatment and control groups two
years earlier. Thus there was no need to control for potentially confounding factors in the analysis. The
shortcomings of this study include the sample size, which was only around 350 actual respondents for
each question, the abbreviated version of the tolerance protocol employed, and the fact that only 47
percent of the treatment group actually attended private schools and only 50 percent of original study
participants attended the second-year data collection sessions.
David Campbell (2002) confirms the results of the Wolf, Peterson, and West experiment in his
reanalysis of data collected for an earlier evaluation of the Children’s Scholarship Fund’s national,
privately funded, school voucher program. Campbell is able to include some observations that had been
excluded from the original analysis and to thereby obtain clearer results. Vouchers were awarded to
participants by lottery, permitting evaluators to conduct a randomized field trial of their effects. The same
three-point political scale used in the Wolf, Peterson, and West experiment was employed here; however,
the survey was administered by phone instead of in a more controlled environment. In his examination of
the evidence from 461 to 474 survey respondents, Campbell finds that, after one year, students who used
a voucher to switch to private schools score 0.8 of a point to 1.0 full point higher on the tolerance scale
than do comparable students who remained in public schools. This represents a political tolerance gain of
27-33 percent, which is statistically significant beyond the 95 percent confidence level. Campbell’s
analysis shares most of the strengths and weaknesses of the Wolf, Peterson, and West randomized field
trial of vouchers in Washington. The strengths of the Campbell study are the random assignment of
students to treatment and control groups and the national scope of the study. Its shortcomings include a
low rate of treatment use (29 percent) and only a moderate rate of survey response (46 percent).
Wolf, Greene, Kleitz, and Thalhammer (2001) surveyed college students in Texas regarding their
educational backgrounds and levels of political tolerance. Nearly one thousand students at six Texas
colleges and universities completed the survey, which used the complete protocol to gauge their levels of
political tolerance. Controlling for over twenty factors that otherwise might confound the analysis,
including the respondents’ political ideology and the extent to which they felt threatened by their least-
liked group, the authors find that more private schooling is associated with higher levels of political
tolerance, all else being equal. Although the positive effect of private schooling on tolerance appears to be
strongest for students who had attended secular private schools, even the students who had received all of
their K-12 education in religious schools demonstrated higher average tolerance levels than comparable
students from public school backgrounds.
The positive effect of receiving all of one’s prior education in private secular schools on political
tolerance is nearly one-half standard deviation and is statistically significant beyond the 95 percent
confidence level. The positive effect of receiving all of one’s prior education in private religious schools
on political tolerance is nearly one-third standard deviation and is statistically significant beyond the 90
percent confidence level. The strengths of this study include the fact that it used the full political tolerance
measurement protocol, employed a sample drawn from a state that is sometimes maligned for having
intolerant religious schools, and included a full slate of control variables in the analytic model. The main
shortcomings of the study are, one, the limited ability to generalize the results to young adults who do not
attend college or to college students in states other than Texas and, two, the fact that self-selection cannot
be ruled out entirely as a contributor to the reported private schooling advantage.
Finally, in an analysis of the 1996 National Household Education Survey, Richard Niemi, Mary
Hepburn, and Chris Chapman (2000) report positive results regarding private schooling and political
tolerance. The survey contains the complete results of interviews with a random sample of nearly 4,000
high school students and their parents across the United States. Controlling for an impressive array of
background characteristics, including parents’ level of political tolerance, these researchers find that high
school students in private schools are more likely to respond that their school library collection ought to
include “controversial” books than are comparable students in public schools. Attending a private school
is only slightly less important in explaining political tolerance than is having tolerant parents. The result is
statistically significant beyond the 95 percent confidence level. The main advantages of this analysis are
the size and scope of the National Household Education Survey and the solid control variables used. The
main disadvantages are that the full tolerance measurement protocol was not employed and that private
schooling has no clear effect on student responses to the second tolerance question regarding whether
people should be allowed to speak out against religion and churches -- a particularly tough tolerance test
for students attending religious schools.
A stratified sample of eighth-grade students in New York City and in Dallas-Fort Worth produced
two analyses that conclude that certain types of private school have a positive effect on political tolerance.
Public, private religious, and private secular schools in both cities were matched on the racial
characteristics of their student populations, then all eighth graders in the matched schools were surveyed
regarding their demographic backgrounds and attitudes toward politically controversial groups. The
complete standard tolerance measurement protocol was used. In an examination of the results from over
900 students surveyed in New York City, Wolf and his colleagues (1998) find that students in private
secular schools scored an average of one-quarter standard deviation higher in tolerance than students in
public schools, a difference that is statistically significant beyond the 99 percent confidence level. They
find no significant difference between the tolerance levels of students in private religious schools and the
students in public schools. The analysis controlled for gender, race, academic performance, the extent to
which students discussed politics at home, and the extent to which they felt threatened by their least-liked
group. In a further analysis, the researchers find that schools in all of the sectors that encourage student
government and organized community events at the school tend to produce students who are more
politically tolerant, suggesting that the school-based modeling of democratic processes enhances civic
values like tolerance. The main shortcoming of the study is the absence of a control variable for family
R. Kenneth Godwin, Carrie Ausbrooks, and Valerie Martinez (2001) further analyzed the
complete set of over 2,000 eighth-grade respondents in both New York City and Dallas-Fort Worth. They
find that students at private secular and non-evangelical religious private schools indicate significantly
greater support than public school students for democratic norms in the abstract, whereas students in
evangelical private schools demonstrate a level of support for democratic norms that is indistinguishable
from the level for public school students. When asked to apply democratic values to the case of tolerating
their least-liked groups, the average responses of students in all four types of school (public, private
secular, private evangelical, and private non-evangelical) are similar. The researchers also note that
students in evangelical private schools (all in Texas) are much less likely to choose a racist group as their
least-liked political group than are students in the other types of school. The strengths of this study are
that it draws upon data from two very different locales and employs instrumental variable analysis to
adjust for possible selection bias in the samples. The shortcoming of this study is that the instrumental
factors used in the correction are quite weak, meaning that they may merely introduce noise into the
analysis, blurring real distinctions between the outcomes in the various school sectors.
Following the lead of Niemi and his colleagues, Campbell (2001b) drew upon the 1996 National
Household Education Survey to study the effects of various types of private school on political tolerance.
Campbell’s analysis controlled for about thirty possible confounding factors regarding the student, the
student’s family, and the school attended. He concludes that private secular and Catholic schools
engender somewhat higher levels of political tolerance than do public schools. The advantage of private
secular schools in this regard is particularly strong and statistically significant beyond the 99 percent
confidence level. However, non-Catholic religious schools (such as evangelical Christian schools)
appeared to be significantly (beyond the 95 percent confidence level) worse than public schools in
inculcating political tolerance in their students. The strengths of this study are the size and national scope
of the sample, the opportunity (because of size) to disaggregate private school students into meaningful
subcategories, and the extensive set of control variables employed. By disaggregating the private school
variable, Campbell was able to uncover why Niemi and colleagues’ earlier results are ambiguous
regarding the “free speech against religion” measure of tolerance. The answer is that the opposition to
such a principle engendered by evangelical Christian schools partially cancels out support for it by the
Catholic and private secular educational experience.
Campbell (2001a) also collected original data on the civic attitudes of students in traditional
public, public charter, private secular, and Catholic junior high and high schools in Massachusetts. His
stratified sampling method was designed to include a significant number of responses from students in
high-performing, average-performing, and low-performing traditional public schools to compare with the
results from three types of choice school (public charter, private secular, and Catholic). Since both
schools and students ultimately self-selected into the sample, there is a strong likelihood that his sample is
not representative of all such students in Massachusetts, a point that Campbell admits. The selectivity of
the sample is particularly high for the traditional public school students in his sample, since they represent
less than 12 percent of their respective student bodies. The response rates for the students at public
charter, private secular, and Catholic schools are far higher: 41 percent, 45 percent, and 42 percent,
respectively. Thus the selection bias in Campbell’s sample likely biases comparisons in favor of
traditional public schools, which selected only their most cooperative students to participate in the study.
In spite of those conditions, Campbell uncovers results from his analysis of 1,606 survey
respondents suggesting a contingent school choice tolerance advantage. Controlling for parental
voluntarism, parental education, student’s age, student’s ethnicity (that is, whether or not Hispanic),
student’s grades, and frequency of church attendance, Campbell finds that students at secular private
schools are significantly more politically tolerant than are the students in traditional public schools. All
things equal, the students in public charter and Catholic schools do not differ significantly from the
traditional public school students in political tolerance levels. High-, average-, and low-performing public
schools do not differ from each other in the average levels of tolerance of their students. As with the
previous studies that drew upon the National Household Education Survey, a significantly abridged
version of the tolerance protocol was used in this study that focused exclusively on controversial library
books and speech critical of religion.
Greene, Mellow, and Giammo (1999b) examined the results of a 1997 survey of the political
tolerance of adults in Texas. The poll of a randomly selected sample of 1,000 Texans is administered
annually by the University of Texas and relies upon an abbreviated version of the political tolerance index
described above. The researchers controlled for demographic factors such as gender, age, race, residential
location (urban or nonurban), residential mobility, religion, and income. They also controlled for the
degree to which respondents disliked their least-liked group and the extent to which they felt threatened
by it. Greene and his colleagues found the only positive effect of private schooling on tolerance (an
increase of nearly one-quarter standard deviation) among the group of respondents who had attended both
public and private schools. Texans who had received their entire education in private schools were no
more (or less) politically tolerant than Texans who had received their entire education in public schools.
The strengths of this study are the fact that respondents were selected randomly and that a rather
extensive set of appropriate control variables was employed. The weaknesses are the difficulty in
generalizing beyond Texas and the fact that the treatment of private schooling had its greatest effect when
tempered by some public schooling, a curious but not inexplicable result.
Finally, the evaluations of three additional randomized field trials of school vouchers by William
G. Howell and Paul E. Peterson (2002) include an abridged version of the tolerance index in their surveys
of middle school students (grades four through nine). Like the experimental studies of Washington
voucher students after two years and the national Children’s Scholarship Fund participants described
above, the programs that were studied all assigned vouchers to a low-income population of students at
random, allowing some to switch from public to private schools. Unlike the second-year Washington
evaluation and Campbell’s reanalysis of the scholarship fund data, which both find higher levels of
tolerance among voucher users, the evaluations of the Washington program after three years, a Dayton
program after two years and a San Francisco program after two years uncover no significant differences
in the level of political tolerance between voucher users and the randomly generated control group. The
random assignment of participants to the private and public school conditions is a clear strength of these
studies. However, the sample sizes in each individual study were relatively small (200-900), and the
students surveyed may have been too young to produce a reliable assessment of political tolerance.
Combined with modest voucher usage rates of 29-36 percent and study response rates that hovered
around 50 percent, the resulting noise in the data may explain why no significant differences in tolerance
levels are identified in these experiments.
Studies of Voluntarism
Nine different empirical studies generate fourteen results regarding the extent to which private schooling
or school choice affects the likelihood that students or parents will volunteer their time in community
enterprises. As with the distribution of political tolerance results, with one exception, the school choice
effects on voluntarism range from neutral to positive. Greene (1998) examined the information about
voluntary activity among twelfth-grade students in public and private schools collected by the U.S.
Department of Education via the 1992 National Education Longitudinal Study. Controlling for student’s
socioeconomic status, race, and the racial composition of their classroom, Greene finds that students in
private schools are 20 percent more likely to have volunteered their services in the past two years than are
students in public schools, a difference statistically significant beyond the 99 percent confidence level. He
finds a similarly large positive effect of private schooling on the percentage of students who say they
volunteer every week and a somewhat smaller (but still statistically significant) positive impact on student
opinions that it is very important to volunteer in one’s community.
The National Education Longitudinal Study is a highly regarded survey, and its national scope is
a clear strength of the Greene study. However, since the survey provides information about private and
public schools as they existed in 1992, the data may be somewhat outdated. The importance of service
learning has been stressed in public schools recently, raising the possibility that newer surveys might
reveal a shrinking or even elimination of the private school advantage in promoting voluntarism present
in the 1992 data. Also, relatively few control variables were used in the analysis, raising the possibility
that confounding factors (such as urban residence) might be biasing the results.
R. Kenneth Godwin and Frank Kemerer (2002) report the results of a successful attempt to
replicate Greene’s voluntarism findings, using the sample of 2,000 eighth graders in New York City and
Dallas-Fort Worth mentioned previously. Employing a dual strategy of matching schools on student
demographics and instrumental variable estimation to correct for possible selection bias, they find that
private school students are 21 percent more likely to volunteer in their community than are comparable
public school students, virtually identical to the private school advantage that Greene uncovered. They
further discovered that private school students report volunteering an average of 50 percent more hours a
week than their public school peers. Again, the main shortcoming of this study is the absence of a family
income control variable.
Mark Schneider and his colleagues (1997) studied the effects of school choice on the likelihood
of parents volunteering in New York City and the New Jersey suburbs. The researchers matched New
York’s District 4, a hotbed of public school choice options, with the demographically similar District 1,
which does not allow school choice. They also compared a sample of parents in Mountclair, N.J., which
actually requires all parents to choose their child’s public school, with a sample from Morristown, N.J.,
which they argue is similar in all relevant respects except that it does not permit school choice. In their
sample of 1,200 respondents they find that parents in school choice districts are about 6 percent more
likely to volunteer than are comparable parents in non-choice districts. The difference is statistically
significant at the 95 percent confidence level using the less stringent one-tailed test. To correct for
selection bias not controlled for by the matching, the researchers used instrumental variable analysis.
However, their instrumental variables -- parental opinions about whether or not their child’s school is
diverse or espouses certain values -- are questionable, since they are likely associated with the outcome
(volunteering) that they are explaining. Nevertheless, this study was published in the flagship political
science journal, American Political Science Review.
Employing a matching protocol similar to that of Schneider and colleagues as well as individual-
level demographic control variables, Wolf and his colleagues (1998) find that private schooling promotes
voluntary activity among eighth-grade students in New York City but only if they attend religious private
schools.33 In the most complete analytic model that they estimate, students in private secular schools are
nearly 17 percent less likely to volunteer than are their public school peers, a difference statistically
significant beyond the 95 percent confidence level. However, students in private religious schools are 23
percent more likely to volunteer than are their public school counterparts, an effect significant beyond the
99 percent confidence level. As with the study of political tolerance among eighth-grade students in New
York, their analysis finds that schools in all sectors that encourage student participation in decision-
making significantly enhance voluntarism among their student bodies. The primary weaknesses in this
study are the imprecise nature of the matching protocol, which matched schools within the various sectors
that fall within a racial demographic range, and limitation in the ability to generalize the results beyond
New York City.
In their analysis of the 1996 National Household Education Survey, Niemi, Hepburn, and
Chapman (2000) partially confirm the results reported in Wolf and others. Controlling for nine variables,
including whether or not the student’s parents volunteer, they find that high school students in private
religious schools are much more likely to volunteer than are comparable students in public schools. The
only variable more closely associated with voluntarism than religious schooling is whether or not the
school arranges voluntary activities for its students. Unlike Wolf and others, they uncover no significant
differences in the rates of volunteering for students in private secular schools compared with their public
school peers. Campbell (2001b) confirms Niemi, Hepburn, and Chapman’s results in his follow-up
analysis of the 1996 survey. The main advantage of these two analyses is the fact that the survey is a
large, nationally representative survey.
Campbell (2001a) further suggests that charter schools in Massachusetts promote voluntarism
largely by making it mandatory. Controlling for parental voluntarism, parent’s education, student’s age,
student’s ethnicity (whether or not Hispanic), and student’s grades, he finds that students in the charter
schools in his sample are more likely to volunteer than are students in high-performing public schools,
even though the demographics of the charter population would predict a voluntarism rate 13 percent less
than the high-performing public school average. As mentioned above, Campbell’s original data for this
study are not necessarily representative of the student population in Massachusetts, and thus the
conclusions drawn from them should be treated as suggestive.
Christian Smith and David Sikkink (1999) analyzed an even larger data set, the 9,393 parental
responses to the 1996 National Household Education Survey. Controlling for income, education, age,
race, family structure, region, and weekly work hours, the authors find that parents of students in religious
private schools or who homeschool their children are significantly more likely to volunteer in their
communities. Of the many subgroups examined in this particularly rich database, only the parents of
students in secular private schools fail to demonstrate a voluntarism advantage relative to public school
parents. The researchers do not specify the levels of statistical significance obtained by their subgroup
differences and may not have included all relevant control variables. Still, the size and scope of their
analysis is impressive.
Finally, Thomas Dee (2005) studied the patterns of Catholic high school attendance and adult
volunteering captured in the High School and Beyond (HS&B) database. The HS and B is a major
longitudinal database compiled by the U.S. Department of Education. It contains over 12,000
observations of students who were high school sophomores in 1980, 19 percent of whom were attending
private schools. Ten years later they were asked whether they had volunteered in the past month. In
multivariate models that controlled for up to 39 background variables and several corrections for possible
self-selection bias, Dee found no statistically significant effects of Catholic high school on the propensity
of young adults to volunteer.
Studies of Political Knowledge
For democracy to work effectively, citizens must be reasonably well informed about the issues and
choices that exist in the political realm. Five studies produce eight findings regarding the effect of school
choice on political knowledge. Godwin and Kemerer (2002) report the results of a study of the effects of
private schooling on the political knowledge of over 2,000 eighth-grade students in New York City and
Dallas-Fort Worth. Using race, parent education, family size, self-esteem, and several interactions of
these factors as instruments to control for selection bias, they determine that private schooling overall
modestly improves student levels of political knowledge. Controlling for seven important background
factors, they find that attending a private school increases a student’s performance on a six-question civics
quiz by an average of 0.3, statistically significant beyond the 99 percent confidence level. In a separate
estimation on the responses only of the Dallas-Fort Worth students, Godwin and colleagues (1999)
conclude that evangelical Christian schooling specifically exerts a powerful positive effect on political
knowledge, increasing the quiz score by an average of 1.8 points, all else being equal. The main strength
of this study is the use of both matching and instrumental variable techniques to control for selection bias.
The primary weaknesses are the limited set of control variables in the regressions and the challenges to
generalizing beyond the two arguably unique metropolitan areas studied.
Niemi, Hepburn, and Chapman (2000) include an estimation of the causes of political knowledge
in their analysis of the 1996 National Household Education Survey described above. In a regression that
includes seventeen important explanatory variables, they find that high school students in private schools
score somewhat higher then their public school peers on a five-question civics quiz. Although
substantively modest, the private schooling effect is statistically significant.
Campbell (2001b), in his analysis of the 1996 National Household Education Survey, finds that
students who attend Catholic schools score significantly higher on an index of political knowledge than
do comparable students in assigned public schools. The Catholic school advantage in conveying political
knowledge to students is statistically significant beyond the 99 percent confidence level. Campbell
uncovers no significant difference in political knowledge levels between students in assigned public
schools and comparable students in chosen public schools or non-Catholic private schools.
In the randomized field trial evaluation of the Children’s Scholarship Fund program, Paul
Peterson and David Campbell (2001) find no significant differences in average political knowledge levels
between the users of the fund’s vouchers and comparable students in public schools. Analyzing the U.S.
Department of Education’s High School and Beyond data set, James Coleman and Thomas Hoffer (1987)
similarly uncover no significant difference between public school and Catholic school students on their
levels of political knowledge.
Studies of Political Participation
Another seldom studied question is the extent to which private schooling encourages political
participation, with four studies producing six results regarding that question. Greene, Giammo, and
Mellow (1999a) find that Latinos who received all of their K-12 education in private schools are 16
percent more likely to say that they voted in the last presidential election than are comparable Latinos
who were educated exclusively in public schools. The private school advantage for Latino political
participation is statistically significant beyond the 99 percent confidence level. Again, the strength of this
study is its national scope and automatic control for ethnicity. The weakness of the study is the possibility
of uncontrolled selection bias and limits in the ability to generalize the results to adults of non-Latino
ethnicity. Greene, Mellow and Giammo (1999b) also report a positive effect of private schooling on the
political participation of Texas adults, regardless of their ethnicity.33 They find that some exposure to
private schooling increases the likelihood of voting by 9 percent, all else equal. Curiously, they find that
Texans who received all of their education in private schools are no more likely to vote than their public
Thomas Dee’s (2005) study of young adults in the High School and Beyond database also
included an examination of the effect of attending a Catholic high school on subsequent political
participation. He reported that Catholic schooling increased the rates of voter registration, regular voting,
and presidential voting, with levels of statistical significance above the 95 percent confidence level even
in the regression model that included 39 control variables. He then tested for possible self-selection bias,
first by comparing the results for selective Catholic schools (those that drew students from waiting lists or
required entrance exams) compared with non-selective Catholic schools, and later by using the presence
of a Catholic high school in a person’s county as an instrumental variable to generate an unbiased
estimate of the Catholic schooling effect. Each of the three results was robust to at least one of the
selection bias corrections.
Smith and Sikkink (1999) also examined the relationship between private schools and
homeschooling and parental political participation, using data from the 1996 National Household
Education Survey. Their results mirror those for voluntarism reported above. Parents who enroll their
children in private religious schools or who homeschool them are more politically active than are
otherwise comparable parents who enroll their children in public schools. Parents of students in private
secular schools do not differ significantly from public school parents in their rates of political
Studies of Civic Skills
Civic skills are the final element of democratic citizenship analyzed by Niemi, Hepburn, and Chapman
and by Campbell in their studies of the 1996 National Household Education Survey. These two studies
generated four diverse findings regarding the effect of school choice on civic skills. The survey asked
students, During this school year, have you done any of the following things in any class at your school:
• Written a letter to someone you did not know?
• Given a speech or an oral report?
• Taken part in a debate or discussion in which you had to persuade others about your point of
Niemi, Hepburn, and Chapman (2000) report that students in private high schools are more likely
to have engaged in these three activities which are central to political efficacy than are comparable
students in public high schools. The effects of private schooling on the probability of having given a
speech or taken part in a debate are statistically significant; however, the effect on having written a letter
appears to fall just short of statistical significance at conventional levels.
Campbell (2001b) finds that students in Catholic schools score slightly higher (1.69) on an index
of these three civic skills than do comparable students in assigned public schools (1.56). Although
substantively small, the difference is statistically significant beyond the 95 percent confidence level. No
significant differences in civic skills were uncovered between students in assigned public schools and
comparable students in non-Catholic private schools. However, Campbell does find that students in all
three types of private school (Catholic, non-Catholic religious, and secular) indicate greater “confidence”
in using their civic skills.
Studies of Patriotism
Finally, Wolf and his colleagues (1998) examined the average scores of the eighth-grade students in
various types of New York City schools on an index of patriotism. This represents the only known
empirical study of the effect of school choice on patriotism and produced the lonely patriotism result
displayed in the figures. The patriotism index includes five questions about each student’s visceral
attachment to their country and its symbols (such as the flag and the Pledge of Allegiance). The study
reports that students in private schools score somewhat lower on patriotism, on average, than do
comparable students in public schools. The size of the negative private school effect on patriotism is
about one-quarter standard deviation and is statistically significant beyond the 99 percent confidence
level. The report does not separate out religious from nonreligious private schools. However, being
Catholic was a control variable in the analysis, and Catholicism displays a strong positive relationship to
patriotism. The weaknesses of this analysis are its limitation to New York City schools and the fact that
the patriotism scale employed (a scale well established in the psychology literature) could be interpreted
as a measure not of true patriotism but of national chauvinism or jingoism.
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