Working PaperPDF Available

School Choice and Equity: Current Policies in OECD Countries and a Literature Review

Authors:

Abstract and Figures

This report discusses the most relevant issues concerning school choice schemes, and how they intertwine with equity considerations, through a literature review and analysis of the effects different types of school choice programmes have on equity. In the last 25 years, more than two-thirds of OECD countries have increased school choice opportunities for parents. The empirical evidence reviewed here reveals that providing full parental school choice results in further student segregation between schools, by ability, socio-economic and ethnic background, and in greater inequities across education systems. The report identifies certain characteristics of programmes that can prevent schools from hand-picking their students - crowding out disadvantaged and low performing students. As school choice is here to stay, countries should explore choice designs that balance parents’ freedom to choose with equity considerations: this report develops two particular schemes: controlled choice programmes – also called flexible enrolment schemes – and weighted funding formula.Ce rapport aborde les aspects les plus pertinents concernant les systèmes de choix de l'école, et leurs relations avec les questions d’équité, à travers une revue de la littérature et un examen des effets de différents types de mécanismes de choix. Au cours des 25 dernières années, plus des deux tiers des pays de l'OCDE ont augmenté les possibilités de choix de l'école pour les parents. L’évidence empirique examinée ici révèle que de permettre aux parents de choisir entre toutes les écoles contribuent à séparer les élèves par aptitudes, milieux socio-économiques, et origines ethniques, et donc accroit les iniquités entre les écoles. Le rapport identifie certaines caractéristiques des programmes qui peuvent empêcher les écoles « d’écrémer » les élèves, et donc d’exclure ceux qui sont les plus défavorisés, ou les moins bons. Les pays peuvent développer des mécanismes qui permettre de concilier la liberté pour les parents de choisir l’école de leurs enfants et l’équité. Ce rapport analyse deux dispositifs particuliers: les programmes de choix contrôlé - également appelés les régimes d'inscription flexibles - et le financement pondéré des écoles.
Content may be subject to copyright.
Please cite this paper as:
Musset, P. (2012), “School Choice and Equity: Current
Policies in OECD Countries and a Literature Review”, OECD
Education Working Papers, No. 66, OECD Publishing, Paris.
http://dx.doi.org/10.1787/5k9fq23507vc-en
OECD Education Working Papers No. 66
School Choice and Equity
CURRENT POLICIES IN OECD COUNTRIES AND
A LITERATURE REVIEW
Pauline Musset
²
Unclassified
EDU/WKP(2012)3
Organisation de Coopération et de Développement Économiques
Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development
___________________________________________________________________________________________
_____________
English - Or. English
DIRECTORATE FOR EDUCATION
SCHOOL CHOICE AND EQUITY: CURRENT POLICIES IN OECD COUNTRIES AND A
LITERATURE REVIEW
Directorate for Education Working Paper N°66
by Pauline Musset
This paper was prepared as part of the OECD thematic review Overcoming School Failure: Policies that Work,
www.oecd.org/edu/equity. The project provides evidence on the policies that are effective to reduce school
failure by improving low attainment and reducing dropout, and proactively supports countries in promoting
reform. The project builds on the conceptual framework developed in the OECD’s No More Failures: Ten Steps
to Equity in Education (2007). Austria, Canada (Manitoba, Ontario, Québec and Yukon), Czech Republic,
France, Greece, Ireland, Netherlands, Spain and Sweden took part in this project.
This working paper is part of a series of working papers for the thematic review Overcoming School Failure:
Policies that Work covering the topics of policies to reduce dropout and in-school practice to reduce school
failure. This series fed into the final comparative report Equity and Quality in Education: Supporting
Disadvantaged Schools and Students (OECD, 2012), which gives evidence on the policy levers that can help
overcome school failure and reduce inequities in OECD education systems. It focuses on the reasons why
investing in overcoming school failure -early and up to upper secondary- pays off, on alternatives to specific
system level policies that are currently hindering equity, and on the actions to be taken at school level, in
particular in low performing disadvantaged schools.
Pauline Musset, + 33 (0) 145 24 75 54, pauline.musset@oecd.org
JT03315145
Document complet disponible sur OLIS dans son format d'origine
Complete document available on OLIS in its original format
EDU/WKP(2012)3
Unclassified
English - Or. English
Cancels & replaces the same document of 24 January 2012
EDU/WKP(2012)3
2
TABLE OF CONTENTS
INTRODUCTION THE SCHOOL CHOICE DEBATE ................................................................................. 4
1. WHAT IS SCHOOL CHOICE? .................................................................................................................. 6
The rationale for school choice: the introduction of market mechanisms in schooling ............................... 6
Conclusion ................................................................................................................................................... 7
2. DIFFERENT APPROACHES TO SCHOOL CHOICE.............................................................................. 8
Assessing the availability of choice ............................................................................................................. 8
Gauging school choice arrangements ........................................................................................................ 10
Conclusion ................................................................................................................................................. 24
3. SCHOOL CHOICE AND ITS IMPACT ON EQUITY ............................................................................ 25
The impact of school choice on student performance: “grand claim, modest evidence” .......................... 25
School choice poses risks that can exacerbate inequities .......................................................................... 31
4. DESIGNING SCHOOL CHOICE SCHEMES COMPATIBLE WITH EQUITY ................................... 37
Basic features of choice policies to support equity .................................................................................... 37
Combining school choice and equity through well-thought design ........................................................... 40
5. CONCLUSION ......................................................................................................................................... 43
6. BIBLIOGRAPHY ..................................................................................................................................... 44
Tables
Table 2.1. The structures of choice in OECD countries (2009) ................................................................. 11
Table 2.2. School choice in primary and lower secondary public schools in OECD countries, 2009 ....... 13
Table 2.3. Selection criteria for public schools across OECD countries (2009) ........................................ 15
Table 2.4. Diversity within public schooling (2009) ................................................................................. 19
Table 2.5. Financial mechanisms to promote school choice at the lower secondary level (2009) ............ 21
Table 3.1. Overview of the existing research on the impact of an increased parental choice on
segregation by ability, by SES and by ethnicity ........................................................................................ 36
Table 4.1. Information to parents about school choice structures for lower secondary ............................. 39
EDU/WKP(2012)3
3
Figures
Figure 2.1. Availability of school choice, as reported by principals (2009) ................................................ 8
Figure 2.2. Student enrolment by type of schools (2009) .......................................................................... 10
Figure 2.3. Selectiveness of schools‟ admission criteria, as reported by principals (2009) ....................... 16
Figure 3.1. Performance differences between public and private schools measured on the PISA 2009
reading scale .............................................................................................................................................. 28
Boxes
Box 2.1. Definitions of type of schools, by ownership ................................................................................ 9
Box 2.2. School choice arrangements in selected OECD countries .......................................................... 17
Box 2.3. Selected examples of specialized schools ................................................................................... 18
Box 2.4. Spotlight on Sweden‟s voucher system ....................................................................................... 22
Box 4.1. Examples of controlled choice schemes ...................................................................................... 41
EDU/WKP(2012)3
4
INTRODUCTION
THE SCHOOL CHOICE DEBATE
1. In the last 25 years, more than two-thirds of OECD countries have increased school choice
opportunities for parents, and it is perhaps one of the most ardently discussed issues in the current
education policy debate. School choice advocates often argue that the introduction of market mechanisms
in education allows equal access to high quality schooling for all: expanding school choice opportunities
would allow all students including disadvantaged ones and the ones attending low performing schools
to change to better schools. Since school choice has always been available for well-off families through
residential mobility and through enrolment in private schools, advocates suggest that expanding school
choice to all, including low-income and minority students, will increase equity. Choice programmes can be
perceived as leading to a general improvement in the quality of education, and fostering efficiency and
innovation.
2. On the other hand, school choice critics suggest that school choice can exacerbate inequities, as it
increases sorting of students between schools based on their socio-economic status, their ethnicity and their
ability, and quality can become increasingly unequal between schools. They argue that it further
advantages those who already have had a better start in life because of their parents. They also suggest that
school choice reduces the unique potential of schools as social cohesion builders, as schools are further
segregated by student characteristics.
3. This literature review on school choice analyses the impact of choice schemes on students and on
school systems focusing on equity. Reviewing the evidence can be difficult, as the literature is often
fragmented and inconclusive, and the political importance of this research often results in high-profile
attention given to individual studies rather than systemically understanding collected from a larger
empirical base (Berends, Cannata and Goldring, 2011). Different political groups use evidence that
supports their positions in favour or against school choice, and their positions relative to school choice are
largely based on their ideologies, rather than on empirical work and evidence of effectiveness (Levin and
Belfield, 2004).
4. This report steps away from the ideological debate and provides research-based evidence on the
impact of choice on disadvantaged students and schools. As “only with data on the consequences of
different plans for school choice will we be able to reach sensible judgements rooted in experience (Fuller
and Elmore, 1996, p. 8)”. It uses analysis and statements that are supported empirically and attempts to
cover the widest possible scope of research1, and provide responses to the key question of how to balance
choice with equity considerations.
5. When planning the introduction of school choice, education systems can use different schemes
that can have different impact on students and on school systems. Why should countries introduce choice
1 The aspect of the school choice debate that has received more attention is empirical reviews on the impact of school choice on
student outcomes and the impact of increasing school choice on disadvantaged children. But there is also an interesting and
important literature on the impact of competition between schools within the public sector, and on public and private voucher
programs, and weighted student funding, also of interest for our work.
EDU/WKP(2012)3
5
mechanisms in their education systems? What are the different ways to introduce choice? What is the
impact of these mechanisms on individual students and on school systems? As the evidence shows that
more parental choice leads to an increase polarization of students by ability and socio-economic
background, how can countries mitigate the negative impact on equity that school choice mechanisms tend
to have?
6. To answer these questions, this paper begins with a description and overview of existing choice
arrangements across OECD countries and provides an assessment of their impact. It provides an account of
the current empirical evidence on the effects of different school choice schemes, focusing more particularly
on student achievement, especially on disadvantaged students, and on the allocation of students into
schools. The paper then studies the impact of school choice on equity and ends with some policy
suggestions on how different choice schemes can respond to equity considerations: how to combine the
parental right to choose with the social imperative of equity.
EDU/WKP(2012)3
6
1. WHAT IS SCHOOL CHOICE?
The rationale for school choice: the introduction of market mechanisms in schooling
7. School choice programmes partly introduce market mechanisms in education, such as consumer
choice and competition between schools: “school choice essentially positions parents as consumers
empowered to select from several options thereby injecting a degree of consumer-driven, market-style
competition into the system as schools seek to attract those families” (Feinberg and Lubienski, 2008, p 2).
The introduction of such mechanisms induces a change in the basic constraints that schools and students
face - changes in student mobility, diversification of the supply, changes in funding and in parental
behaviour - and therefore it induces changes in the educational structure.
8. A diverse provision of education is not completely absent from the traditional conception of
schooling, which was articulated in terms of providing different types of education for different children,
and differentiated opportunities for top performers with a higher status within the same system. However,
in the new context in which standards and expectations for educational attainment have risen, “the very
success of the policy efforts to equalise opportunities has produced new demands as households have
sought to ensure that their own children have privileged access to the best schools and programmes
(OECD, 2006, p. 23). These new parental demands, for a much more diverse provision of education and
for differentiated suppliers, have increased the pressure on countries “to deliver more diversified public
service” (OECD, 2006) and also to allow other providers to do so. Pressures have also come from different
public sectors, such as health, as efforts aim to raise the productivity of public services through the
introduction of private providers.
9. The arguments that justify school choice can be classified according to three different premises:
the introduction of market mechanisms in education to remedy inefficiencies; individualist-libertarian
claims of a parental right for choice in education; and school choice as a way of making education systems
more equitable.
Introducing market mechanisms in education to remedy market inefficiencies
10. The debate about school choice appeared in the 1950‟s, especially with the publication by Milton
Friedman of “The Role of Government in Education”, which launched the debate on market mechanisms in
education and on parental choice. In this view, education is perceived as a service, that can be produced
under a variety of arrangements and of which parents are natural consumers.
11. For the advocates of market mechanisms in education, the government-run public education
sector has many problems, because it is publicly funded and is a monopoly. Therefore, it has no incentives
for an efficient and effective use of resources, nor for innovation, which leads to uniformity of curriculum,
organization and management. According to this line of thinking (as developed in Feinberg and Lubienski
(2008)), school choice introduces competition of schools and forces them to improve their performance
and their management, which will expand the supply of efficient and/or more innovative schools, since
these schools are given the right to expand by attracting new students (Hoxby, 2006). Apparently low
performing or inefficient schools risk losing students or/and funding, as consumers choose other
alternatives. This idea is based on the premise that the quality of education is the main consideration in
parents‟ decisions about schools and that information about school programmes and performance is
EDU/WKP(2012)3
7
available. Parents would exit their neighbourhood schools whenever it is feasible to obtain better
educational value at an equal or lesser cost.
The right of parents to choose a school
12. For parental rights‟ advocates, it is legitimate for parents to have freedom to choose which
education to give to their children, to be in accordance to the parents‟ way of life and this parental
empowerment is perceived as a basic human right. This is being justified in a context in which the role of
education has shifted from being the institution where citizens are formed towards having a key role in
developing labour market skills, key to economic growth and social development.
School choice to provide equality of opportunities for all
School choice represents the latest major attempt to restructure public education in order to equalize
opportunities among students (Ryan and Heise, 2002)
13. School choice can also be seen as a tool to promote social justice and not only as a goal in itself
(Feinberg and Lubienski, 2008). Indeed, the better-off have always had the possibility to choose schools
for their children by moving or by paying tuition for a private school. Therefore, introducing school choice
for all students can also be seen as a way to institutionalize and formalize an arrangement that was the
privilege of only a few.
14. Advocates argue that when school choice is not available for more disadvantaged students, they
are trapped in low performing schools, while the most affluent ones have to option to move or to send their
children to a private school. The main objective of making school choice options available for every
student is to “level the playing field”, allowing more disadvantaged children to access high quality schools
they would otherwise not be able to attend. Therefore, the students would be the most likely to benefit
from the introduction of school choice programmes are the ones who have the least access to it (Hoxby,
2003). For that reason, the introduction of school choice can be planned in the framework of equity-led
reforms. For example, in the United States, school choice mechanisms in particular magnet schools were
originally advocated in the South as a way to avoid the segregation of public schools, and also as a way to
empower poor and working-class families (Fuller and Elmore, 1996).
Conclusion
15. School choice is a widely debated issue. Different political groups argue in favour or against
choice, and there is a need to step away from the ideological debate and provide solid research based
evidence on the impact it can have on performance and on equity. In fact, school choice can be viewed
from different perspectives and responds to multiple needs: the pressure for more diversity in schools, for
more efficiency, for more parental freedom in choosing their children‟s education and the necessity to give
disadvantaged children the same opportunities than others.
EDU/WKP(2012)3
8
2. DIFFERENT APPROACHES TO SCHOOL CHOICE
Assessing the availability of choice
16. Since the 1990s‟, many OECD countries have increased the extent of choice, particularly in
secondary education. Nowadays, most countries allow parents and students to choose their school from a
diverse array of choice, even thought the majority of countries rely mostly on public schools to provide
education at the primary and lower secondary levels (OECD, 2011).
17. The extent of choice can be assessed in different ways. In PISA 2009 for example, principals
were asked to indicate whether there were other schools in the local area with which they had to compete
for students, at the lower secondary level.
Figure 2.1. Availability of school choice, as reported by principals (2009)
Percentage of students in schools where the principal reported the following number of schools competing in the same
area (PISA 2009)
0
10
20
30
40
50
60
70
80
90
100
Australia
Japan
Belgium
Slovak Republic
Italy
United Kingdom
Netherlands
New Zealand
Mexico
Korea
Czech Republic
Ireland
United States
Chile
Denmark
Canada
Spain
Germany
Israel
OECD average
Hungary
Estonia
Portugal
Luxe mbourg
Sweden
Turkey
Finland
Poland
Austria
Greec e
Slovenia
Iceland
Switzerland
Norway
%
Two or more other schools
One other school
No other schools
Source: OECD (2010a), PISA 2009 Results: Overcoming Social Background: Equity in Learning Opportunities and Outcomes
(Volume II), PISA, OECD, Paris.
18. For 60% of students on average across OECD countries, parents have, in the above sense, a
choice of two or more schools for their children. In some countries, the percentage of students for whom
school choice is available is even higher, such as Australia, Japan, the Slovak Republic, and Belgium. In
other countries, choice available for students is more limited: in Norway, and Switzerland, more than 70 %
of principals responded that they felt no competition from other schools, while less than 3 % responded
that way in the Netherlands.
EDU/WKP(2012)3
9
19. Nevertheless, caution is required when interpreting these results, since they are based on
principals self-perceptions. Also, the existence of other schools in the local area does not automatically
imply that all parents have access to these, particularly if they are privately managed and ask for high fees,
or are selective. The following section analyses these different configurations.
20. Studying parents‟ response to the availability of school choice allows to see if parents are
sensitive to the incentives given to them by the availability of school choice. Ozek (2009) analysed
household responses to the introduction of intra-district school choice in Pinellas Country schools in 2003.
He showed that parents reacted very strongly to this new opportunity: the percentage of students attending
another school than their local one went from 8 % to 33% for children passing from primary school to
lower secondary education.
21. Understanding the different type of schooling available is important to assess the type of choice
of schools that parents can make, according to the type of school ownership. In addition to public schools,
there are government-dependent private schools and government-independent private schools that parents
may choose from (Box 2.1).
Box 2.1. Definitions of type of schools, by ownership
Public school: a school is classified as public if it is controlled and managed directly by a public education
authority (“traditional public schools”), or controlled and managed by a governing body, whose members are either
appointed by a public authority or elected by public franchise (“autonomous public schools”).
Private school: a school is classified as private if it is controlled and managed by a non-governmental
organization or most of the members of its governing board are not appointed by a public authority.
A government-dependent private school is an institution that receives more than 50 % of its funding
from government agencies.
A government-independent private school is an institution that receives less than 50 % of its funding
from government agencies
Source: OECD (2010a), PISA 2009 Results: Overcoming Social Background: Equity in Learning Opportunities and Outcomes
(Volume II), PISA, OECD, Paris.
22. School choice has changed the distribution of students across different types of schools. New
forms of delivery like government-dependent private schools have flourished in nearly all OECD
countries, in addition to private schooling. In 25 out of the 33 OECD countries, public authorities finance
private schools (except in Estonia, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Mexico and the United States). Figure 2.2
shows the distribution of students across schools in OECD countries.
EDU/WKP(2012)3
10
Figure 2.2. Student enrolment by type of schools (2009)
Results based on school principals' reports (2009)
0%
10%
20%
30%
40%
50%
60%
70%
80%
90%
100%
Netherlands
Belgium
Ireland
Chile
Australia
Korea
Spain
Japan
France
Denmark
OECD average
Israel
Portugal
Austria
Luxe mbourg
Hungary
Mexico
Sweden
Slovak Republic
United States
Canada
United Kingdom
Switzerland
Italy
New Zealand
Germany
Finland
Greece
Estonia
Czech Republic
Slovenia
Poland
Norway
Iceland
Turkey
Public
Government-dependent private
Independent private
Note: For Belgium and France, results from Education at a Glance, 2011
Source: OECD (2010a), PISA 2009 Results: Overcoming Social Background: Equity in Learning Opportunities and Outcomes
(Volume II), OECD, Paris and OECD (2011), Education at a Glance 2011: OECD Indicators, OECD, Paris.
23. On average across OECD countries, 85% of students are enrolled in public education, with
enrolment in government-dependant private schools exceeding 10 % of all students at the lower secondary
level in 12 countries (the Netherlands, Belgium, Ireland, Chile, Australia, Korea, Spain, France, Denmark,
Luxembourg, Hungary and Sweden) and enrolment in government-independent schools exceeds 10 % in
Australia, Korea, Japan and Mexico. It is also worth highlighting that more than 50% of students in the
Netherlands, Ireland and Chile are enrolled in privately managed schools. In contrast, in Turkey, Iceland
and Norway, more than 98% of students attend schools that are managed publicly.
Gauging school choice arrangements
24. The availability and use of school choice is very difficult to capture in a typology, as data on how
many students attend a school other than their local school and how it relates to the availability of formal
choice arrangements is very hard to collect. Additionally, this may vary considerable at the local level.
This section categorises and describes school choice arrangements based on the criteria used to select
students across different types of schools, whether public or private.
EDU/WKP(2012)3
11
Table 2.1. The structures of choice in OECD countries (2009)
Selective On which criteria
Creation of new autonomous
public schools
Students can attend government-
dependent schools
Australia m m m m m Yes m
Austria Yes Yes No xNo Yes No
Belgium ( Fl.) No Yes No x m Yes Yes: school vouchers
Belgium ( Fr.) No Yes No xNo Yes No
Canada m m m m m m m
Chile No Yes No x No Yes Yes: school vouchers and funding follows students
Czech Republic Yes Y es Yes Academic Yes Yes Yes: funding follow s students
Denmark Yes Yes No x Yes Yes No
England Yes Yes Yes Ac ademic, religous and gender Yes Yes No
Estonia Yes Yes Yes Academic, religous, gender and any criteria they wish m Yes Yes: school vouchers , funding follows students, and tuition tax credits
Finland Yes No Yes Ac ademic Yes Yes Yes: funding follows students
France Yes No No xNo Yes Yes: school vouchers and funding follows students
Germany Yes No Yes x Yes Yes Yes: school vouchers and tuition tax credits
Greece Yes No Yes xNo No No
Hungary Yes Yes No x Yes Yes Yes: funding follows students
Iceland Yes Yes No x Yes Yes Yes: funding follows students
Ireland Y es Yes Yes Religous and gender Yes Yes Yes: funding follows students
Israel Yes No No x m Yes Yes: funding follows s tudents
Italy No Yes No x Yes No Yes: school vouchers
Japan Yes No Y es Any criteria they w ish No No No
Korea Yes No No xNo No No
Luxembourg Yes Yes No x Yes Yes No
Mexico Yes Yes No xNo No No
Netherlands No Yes No x No Yes Yes: funding follow s students
New Zealand No Y es Yes x Yes Yes Yes: school vouchers
Norway Yes No No xNo Yes No
Poland Yes Y es Yes xNo Yes Yes: sc hool vouchers and funding follows students
Portugal Yes Yes Yes xNo Yes Yes : funding follows students and tuition tax credits
Scotland Yes Yes No x Yes Y es Yes; money follows s tudents and tuition tax credits
Slovak Republic Yes Yes No x Yes Yes Yes: money follows students
Slovenia m m m m m m m
Spain Yes Yes Yes Financial No Yes Yes; s chool vouchers
Sweden Yes Yes No xNo Yes Yes: money follow s students
Switzerland Yes No No xNo Y es No
Turkey Y es Yes No x m No Yes : school vouchers
United States Yes No No x Yes No Yes , school vouchers, funding follow s students and tuition tax credits
Selective On which critieria
Creation of new autonomous
public schools
Students can attend government-
dependent schools
Australia m m m m m Yes
m
Austria Yes Yes Yes Academic No Yes No
Belgium (Fl.) No Y es No x m Yes Yes: school vouchers
Belgium (Fr.) No Yes No xNo Yes Yes: sc hool vouchers
Canada m m m m m m m
Chile No Yes Yes Academic and gender No Yes Yes: school vouchers and funding follows students
Czech Republic Yes Yes Y es Academic Yes Yes Yes: f unding follows students
Denmark Yes Yes No x Yes Yes No
England Yes Y es Yes Academic, religious and gender Y es Yes No
Estonia Yes Yes Yes Academic, religious, gender and other critieria m Yes Y es: school vouchers, funding follow s students, and tuition tax credits
Finland Yes No Yes Academic Yes Yes Yes: f unding follows students
France Yes Yes No xNo Yes Yes: school vouchers and funding follows students
Germany Yes Yes Yes A cademic Yes Yes Yes: s chool vouchers and tuition tax credits
Greece Yes No Y es m No No No
Hungary Yes Yes Yes Academic Yes Yes Y es: funding follows students
Iceland Yes Y es No x Yes Yes Y es: funding follows s tudents
Ireland Yes Yes Y es Religious and gender No Yes Yes: f unding follows students
Israel Yes No No x m Yes Y es; school vouchers and tuition tax credits
Italy No Yes No x Yes No Yes: s chool vouchers and tuition tax credits
Japan Yes No Yes Any criteria they wish No No No
Korea Yes No No xNo Yes No
Luxembourg Yes Yes No x Yes Yes No
Mexico Yes Yes Yes Academic No No No
Netherlands No Yes Yes Academic No Yes Yes: f unding follows students
New Zealand No Yes m m Yes Y es No
Norway Yes No No xNo Yes No
Poland Yes Yes Yes x No Yes Yes : school vouchers and funding follows students
Portugal Yes Yes Yes x Yes Yes Yes: money follows students and tuition tax credits
Scotland Y es Yes No x Yes Yes Yes: f unding follows students and tuition tax credits
Slovak Republic Yes Y es Yes Academic Yes Yes Yes ; school vouchers and funding follows students
Slovenia m m m m m m m
Spain Yes Yes Yes Financial No Yes Yes; school vouchers and funding follows students
Sweden Y es Yes No xNo Yes Yes: funding follow s students
Switzerland Yes No m m No Yes No
Turkey a a Yes a m a m
United States Yes No No x Yes No Yes : school vouchers, funding follows students, and tuition tax credits
Primary
Expansion of choice within the public sector in the last 25 years
Lower S econdary
There are some financial incentives that allow parents to attend any
private school (voucher,per-student f unding that follows the student
and tuition tax credits)
Geographical assignment
Families who choose so can
enrol their children in another
public school
Criteria of admission for public schools
There are some financial incentives that allow parents to attend any
private school (voucher,per-student f unding that follows the student
and tuition tax credits)
Geographical assignment
Possibility to apply to another public
school (if places available)
Criteria of admission
Expansion of choice within the public sector in the last 25 years
Source: OECD (2011), Education at a Glance 2011: OECD Indicators, OECD, Paris.
EDU/WKP(2012)3
12
25. Most school systems are based on geographical assignment of students to their neighbourhood
school, combined with a certain flexibility to choose among other schools. However, parental choice is
often restricted in different ways, including academic and other admission criteria. There are different
types of criteria that govern choice, to ensure equity or quality, and which may limit the effective extent of
choice available, and this will be developed in the following section. Table 2.1 provides an overview of the
extent of school choice across OECD education systems.
Limited school choice: geographical assignment
26. In 27 out of the 33 OECD countries, the location of the family‟s residence and its proximity to
the school is the principal criteria for assigning schools to students for both primary and lower secondary
schools. Traditionally, this method has been the prevalent one, as it was seen as the most likely method to
ensure that all students have access to a public school and to ensure everyday travel to and from school as
short, safe and convenient, and to strengthen links with the community.
EDU/WKP(2012)3
13
Table 2.2. School choice in primary and lower secondary public schools in OECD countries (2009)
Initial
assignment
based on
geographic
al area
schools
Families are
given a
general
right to
enrol in any
traditional
public
school they
w ish
There is
free choice
of other
public
schools if
there are
places
available
Existence
of
restrictions
and
conditions:
families
must apply
to enrol in a
public
school
other than
the
assigned
one
Others
restrictions
or
conditions
Initial
assignment
based on
geographic
al area
schools
Families are
given a
general
right to
enrol in any
traditional
public
school they
w ish
There is
free choice
of other
public
schools if
there are
places
available
Existence
of
restrictions
and
conditions:
families
must apply
to enrol in a
public
school
other than
the
assigned
one
Others
restrictions
or
conditions
Open enrolme nt
Belgium (Fl.) No Yes Yes No No Belgium (Fl.) No Yes Yes No No
Belgium (Fr.) No Yes Yes No No Belgium (Fr.) No Yes Yes No No
Chile No Yes Yes No No Chile No Yes Yes Yes No
Italy No Yes Yes No m Italy No Yes Yes No m
Netherlands No Yes Yes No No Netherlands No No Yes Yes Yes
New Zealand
No Yes Yes Yes No New Zealand No Yes Yes Yes No
Geographical assignm ent with choice among public s chools
Austria Yes Yes Yes No Yes Austria Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Czech Republic
Yes Yes Yes Yes No Czech Republic Yes Y es Yes Yes No
Denmark Yes Yes Yes No No Denmark Yes Yes Yes No No
England Yes Yes Yes Yes No England Yes Yes Yes Yes No
Estonia Yes Yes Yes Yes No Estonia Yes Yes Yes Yes No
Hungary Yes Yes Yes No No France Yes No Yes No No
Iceland Yes No Yes No No Germany Yes No Yes Yes Yes
Ireland Yes Yes Yes Yes No Hungary Yes Yes Yes Yes No
Luxembourg Yes Yes Yes No No Iceland Yes No Yes No No
Mexico Yes Yes Yes No No Ireland Yes Yes Yes Yes No
Poland Yes No Yes Yes Yes Luxembourg Yes Yes Yes No No
Portugal Yes Yes Yes Yes No Mexico Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Scotland Yes No Yes No Yes Poland Yes No Yes Yes Yes
Slovak Republic
Yes Yes Yes No No Portugal Yes Yes Yes Yes No
Spain Yes Yes Yes Yes No Scotland Yes No Yes No Yes
Sweden Yes No Yes No No Slovak Republic Yes Yes Yes Yes No
Switzerland Yes No No No No Spain Yes Yes Yes Yes No
Turkey Yes No Yes No No Sw eden Yes No Yes No No
United States
Yes m No No Y es United States Yes m No No Yes
No choice among public schools No choice among public schools
Finland Yes No No Yes Yes Finland Yes No No Yes Yes
France Yes No No No No Greece Yes No No Yes No
Germany Yes No No Yes No Israel Yes No No Yes No
Greece Yes No No Yes No Japan Yes No No Yes No
Israel Yes No No No No Korea Yes No No No Yes
Japan Yes No No Yes No Norway Yes No No No m
Korea Yes No No No Yes Switzerland Yes No No No No
Norway Yes No No No m
Primary
Low er se condary
Open enrolme nt
Geographical assignm ent with choice among public s chools
1. No information for Australia, Canada, Slovenia, Turkey (for lower secondary)
Source: OECD (2011), Education at a Glance 2011: OECD Indicators, OECD, Paris.
27. Table 2.2 shows that no (or very limited) choice of schools is more common for the primary level
than for lower secondary. In Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Korea, Norway and Switzerland, initial
school assignment for primary school student is based on geographical area: pupils are usually placed in
the school nearest to their house. Similarly, in the United States, even if the way students are assigned to
schools varies according to each State and each district, zoning schemes prevail in most cases: children are
EDU/WKP(2012)3
14
sent to a zoned neighbourhood school, determined by a school planner (Schneider, Teske and Marschall,
2000). In most OECD countries, the array of choice for parents is wider at the lower secondary level than it
is at the primary level, and catchment areas, very common at the primary level, are somewhat less common
at the secondary school level: only in two countries (Greece and Korea) secondary school students have to
attend the school in their catchment area. Even in the countries where school choice is available, students
are initially assigned to school on a geographical basis, with the exception of Belgium (Flanders), Chile,
the Netherlands and New Zealand.
28. However, it can be acknowledged that even without any formal choice mechanisms, some
parents still find ways to exercise choice and choose the school for their children, finding ways to go
around the official policies (by declaring another address than their real residence for example), buying
into a neighbourhood to gain access to a particular school, and even engaging themselves in the definition
of catchment boundaries. As this capacity is strongly linked to their social, cultural and economic
resources, it is considered un-equitable and is one of the reasons that lead countries to the introduction of
more choice in their public schooling.
School choice within the public sector
Flexible choice and initial geographical assignment: a frequent configuration in OECD countries
29. A majority of countries combine geographical assignment of students to schools with certain
flexibility beyond the initial assignment, through a variety of choice mechanisms that have emerged since
the 1970s. In 23 out of 33 OECD countries, parents are allowed to choose another public school if there are
places available at the primary school level. In Sweden for example, intra-district school choice was
introduced at the beginning of the 1990s (skolvalsreformen). The previous figure indicates that 24 out of
the 33 OECD countries allow a certain degree of choice within public schools at the lower secondary level.
30. However, even if choice exists in many countries, it is restricted in different ways, which de facto
can limit the exercise of choice: parents have to apply for a different public school in 20 countries for
lower secondary schools, as shown in Table 2.3. Depending on the admission criteria, they are not sure to
be able to attend the school of their choice. In Poland, parents can choose another lower secondary school
than that automatically assigned but the headmaster can refuse, even if the school has free places. In
Ireland, parents have a strong voice in the choice of lower secondary school for their child, but that choice
may be modified because of availability or advice from teachers, psychologists, or other education
personnel regarding the suitability of a school for the child, the same configuration also existing in
Germany. In France, even if there has been no major reform concerning school choice, local assignment
rules to schools have become more flexible for lower secondary schools (assouplissement de la carte
scolaire). As there is little data on how this flexibility is exercised, its extent is difficult to assess.
EDU/WKP(2012)3
15
Table 2.3. Selection criteria for public schools across OECD countries (2009)
Academic
criteria
Financial
criteria
(family
income)
Religious
criteria
Gender
criteria
Any criteria
they w ish
Academic
criteria
Financial
criteria
(family
income)
Religious
criteria
Gender
criteria
Any criteria
they w ish
Public primary schools cannot be selective
Austria No No No No No Belgium (Fl.) No No No No No
Belgium (Fl.) No No No No No Belgium (Fr.) No No No No No
Belgium (Fr.) No No No No No Denmark No No No No No
Chile No No No Yes No France No No No No No
Denmark No No No No No Iceland No No No No No
France No No No No No Italy No No No No Yes
Germany No No No No No Korea No No No Yes No
Greece No No No No No Luxembourg No No No No No
Hungary No No No No No Norway No No No No No
Iceland No No No No No Poland No No No No No
Luxembourg No No No No No Portugal No No No No No
Mexico No No No No No Scotland No No No No No
Netherlands No No No No No Sw eden No No No No No
New Zealand No No No No No Sw itzerland No No No No No
Poland No No No No No United States No No No No No
Portugal No No No No No
Norway No No No No No Public lower secondary schools can be selective
Scotland No No No No No Austria Yes No No No No
Slovak Republic No No No No No Chile Yes No No Yes No
Sweden No No No No No Czech Republic Yes No No No No
Switzerland No No No No No England Yes No Yes Yes No
Turkey No aNo No No Estonia Yes No Yes Yes Yes
United States No No No No No Finland Yes No No No No
Germany Yes No No No No
Public primary schools can be selective Greece No No No No No
Czech Republic Yes No No No No Hungary Yes No No No No
England Yes No Yes Yes No Ireland No No Yes Yes No
Estonia Yes No Yes Yes Yes Israel No No Yes Yes No
Finland Yes No No No No Japan No No No No Yes
Ireland No No Yes Yes No Mexico Yes No No No No
Japan No No No No Yes Netherlands Yes No No No Yes
Israel No No Yes Yes No New Zealand No No No Yes No
Spain No Yes No No No Slovak Republic Yes No No No No
Italy No No No No Yes Spain No Yes No No No
Korea No No No Yes No
Public lower secondary schools cannot be selective
1. No information for Australia Canada, Slovenia and Turkey (for lower secondary)
Source: OECD (2011), Education at a Glance 2011: OECD Indicators, OECD, Paris.
31. The criteria to apply to another school vary according to the country and to the schooling level. In
primary education, there are not many selection criteria beyond the location of residence. Only in four
countries (Czech Republic, England, Estonia and Finland2) are primary schools allowed to be selective
academically.
32. It is more common for lower secondary schools to be selective, as is the case in 17 countries out
of 33. In Japan and in the Netherlands, schools are free to set any admission criteria. The academic
criterion is common to decide how children are assigned to schools, and it is determinant in 10 countries
(Austria, Chile, the Czech Republic, England, Estonia, Finland, Germany, Hungary, Mexico, the
Netherlands and the Slovak Republic).
33. Other important criterion is the specialization of the school‟s programmes. In the United States,
some districts place students in schools with consideration to academic diversity, class size and income
2 This does not mean that all primary schools in these countries select their students on this basis, but that there are
entitled to.
EDU/WKP(2012)3
16
diversity. In England, all parents can express preferences about which school their children will attend, but
admission policies vary drastically from region to region, and even from school to school, as the criteria
depends of the local education authority. Some of them give priority to proximity, some schools can also
select on the basis of ability. Parents have no guarantee of being able to attend the school of their choice if
the school is oversubscribed. Only 50% of students attend their neighbourhood school.
Figure 2.3. Selectiveness of schools’ admission criteria, as reported by principals (2009)
Percentage of students in schools where the principal never considers the following statements as a "prerequisite" or a
"high priority" for admittance at school
0
10
20
30
40
50
60
70
80
90
100
Sweden
Norway
Iceland
Spain
Portugal
Finland
United Kingdom
Ireland
Denmark
Greece
New Zealand
United States
Poland
Belgium
Canada
Italy
Mexico
Australia
Korea
Turkey
Slovenia
Czech Republic
Switzerland
Chile
Slovak Republic
Estonia
Austria
Germany
Israel
Hungary
Luxe mbourg
Netherlands
Students' rec ords of academic performance
Recommendations of feeder schools
1. no data for France
Source: OECD (2010a), PISA 2009 Results: Overcoming Social Background: Equity in Learning Opportunities and Outcomes
(Volume II), PISA, OECD, Paris.
EDU/WKP(2012)3
17
Box 2.2. School choice arrangements in selected OECD countries
Denmark: Parents have the right to enrol their children in the municipal school of their choice, if the school is
willing to take the children. Also, in some municipalities, parents can choose freely, according to the guidelines agreed
on by the municipal council, between district schools and other schools in the municipality. Approximately 9% of
students apply to go to a school other than their local school, and 86 % of these demands are granted (OECD, 2006).
Finland: Students may apply to a school other than the one assigned to them. For the selection of students that
are not in their catchment area, schools can choose the criteria (presence of siblings in school, distance from home,
students‟ language choice and other academic criteria) but must apply the same criteria to everybody (OECD, 2006).
Hungary: there is open enrolment to any school in the district, and access to schools outside the district can only
be denied to parents if there is a lack of places. Primary schools are not allowed to hold entrance exams (OECD,
2006).
New Zealand: an open enrolment scheme was introduced in 1989. In 1991, children were no longer guaranteed a
place in their local school. Even if schools receive most of their funding from the government, they are also allowed to
supplement that funding with fund-raising activities, non-compulsory fees from parents and grants from foundations
and firms. Oversubscribed schools have the right to determine their selection criteria, which in general are residence or
having siblings in the school. However, principals can also select the children according to their ability (Ladd and Fiske,
2001). Schools can also charge additional “student fees” (even if public schools continue to be free) (Morphis, 2009).
Poland: since 1990, there is open enrolment to any public school. Nevertheless, there are long administrative
procedures for certain highly demanded schools (OECD, 2006).
Spain: Parents are given the right to choose in the Spanish Constitution. Criteria for attendance in
oversubscribed schools depend on the jurisdiction, such as the proximity to the family home or attendance of siblings
(OECD, 2006).
United States: increasing parental choice has been one of the leading themes of educational policy during the
last 25 years. Along these lines, open enrolment programmes, such as inter-district or intra-district school choice, have
become more and more popular: as for 2005, 27 States had passed legislation authorizing districts to implement intra-
district school choice schemes, and 20 States have done the same for inter-district choice programmes (Ozek, 2009).
Source: OECD (2006), Demand-Sensitive Schooling? Evidence and Issues, OECD, Paris ; Ladd H. and Fiske E. (2001), “The
Uneven Playing Field of School Choice: Evidence from New Zealand”, Journal of Policy Analysis and Management, Vol. 20 ; Ozek U.
(2009), “The Effects of Open Enrolment on School Choice and Student Outcomes”, Working Paper N° 26, National Center for
Analysis of Longitudinal Data in Education Research ; Morphis E. (2009), “The Shift to School Choice in New Zealand”, National
Center for the Study of Privatization in Education, Teachers College, Columbia University.
Full parental choice among public schools
34. There are a few countries where parents have complete freedom to choose among public schools.
In Belgium, Chile, Italy, the Netherlands and New Zealand, students are not assigned to public schools on
a geographical basis. With the exemption of the Netherlands, where schools can select students on
academic criteria, parents apply to the school of their choice, on the principle “first-come, first-serve”:
their application can only be rejected if the school is at full capacity.
Choice by enhancing diversity of provision by public schools
35. Since 1985, more opportunities for school choice at the primary and the lower secondary levels in
public education have been developed through the diversification of the public supply of education in
nearly all OECD countries. This includes more traditional public schools, as well as public schools with a
special emphasis (“specialized schools”: art schools, schools with strong music programmes, technology
schools), or different facilities that draw students from across a district (e.g. in the United States, magnet
EDU/WKP(2012)3
18
schools). In Poland for example, candidates for the first grade can choose between a school in their area of
residence, a sports school, a school with sport classes, a school of sport proficiency, or a school of fine arts
of an appropriate level. For both of these cases, children who live within the area of a particular primary
school have priority for admission (OECD, 2006).
Box 2.3. Selected examples of specialized schools
Czech Republic: schools can establish special programmes that have a specific focus (foreign languages, sports,
sciences, visual arts): 10% of students attend these schools. Parental demand for these types of programmes is high,
especially for intensive teaching in language and in sports.
England: English State schools have been given considerable freedom to specialize and to offer additional
services to students, and any school can apply to become a specialist school: specialist schools can focus on a special
subject, while meeting the National Curriculum requirements.
Hungary: due to the decrease in the number of children, lower secondary schools have free resources to develop
specialized profiles, responding to a diverse demand for students. Schools can decide their own school curriculum
(based on the national core curriculum). As a consequence, most schools offer advanced programmes, sometimes in
subjects that are not taught in other schools (history of art, drama, etc.). Popular schools organize entrance
examinations.
Poland: general secondary schools are allowed to choose their curriculum. There is a strong competition among
schools to attract the best students.
United States: public specialist schools, “magnet schools” became a form of school choice in 1973, after the
Supreme Court ruled that Northern cities had to desegregate. They first emerged in Cincinnati and Milwaukee, to then
spread to the rest of States. Implemented in low-income neighbourhoods, their goal was that educational diversity in
public schools and minimum educational requirements would hold back into the public school system the white middle-
class urban population. By introducing innovative curricula and instructional approaches, magnet schools can
contribute to improve the overall educational quality of the school system.
Source: Elmore R. and B. Fuller (1996), “Empirical Research on Educational Choice: What Are The Implications for Policy-Makers?”
in Fuller B. and R. Elmore (eds) Who Chooses? Who Loses? Culture, Institutions, and the Unequal Effects of School Choice,
Teachers College Press: New York; OECD (2006), Demand-Sensitive Schooling? Evidence and Issues, OECD, Paris.
EDU/WKP(2012)3
19
Table 2.4. Diversity within public schooling (2009)
Primary
Lower
secondary
Primary
Lower
secondary
Primary
Lower
secondary
Australia m m Yes Yes No No
Austria No No Yes Yes Yes Yes
Belgium (Fl.) m m Yes Yes No No
Belgium (Fr.) No No Yes Yes No No
Canada mmmmmm
Chile No No Yes Yes Yes Yes
Czech Republic Yes Yes Yes Yes No No
Denmark Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
England Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Estonia m m Yes Yes No No
Finland Yes Yes Yes Yes No No
France No No Yes Yes Yes Yes
Germany Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Greece No No No No Yes Yes
Hungary Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Iceland Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Ireland Yes No Yes Yes Yes Yes
Israel m m Yes Yes Yes Yes
Italy Yes Yes No No Yes Yes
Japan No No No No Yes Yes
Korea No No No Yes Yes No
Luxembourg Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Mexico No No No No Yes Yes
Netherlands No No Yes Yes Yes Yes
New Zealand Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Norway No No Yes Yes Yes Yes
Poland No No Yes Yes Yes Yes
Portugal No Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Scotland Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Slovak Republic Yes Yes Yes Yes No No
Slovenia mmmmmm
Spain No No Yes Yes Yes Yes
Sweden No No Yes Yes No No
Switzerland No No Yes Yes Yes Yes
Turkey m m No a Yes a
United States Yes Yes No No Yes Yes
Some public schools
benefit of an increased
level of autonomy.
Students can attend
government-dependent
private schools.
Students can attend
government-independent
private schools.
1. m indicates that no data is available.
Source: OECD (2011), Education at a Glance 2011: OECD Indicators, OECD, Paris.
36. In a large number of countries (Czech Republic, Denmark, England, Finland, Germany, Hungary,
Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, New Zealand, Portugal, Scotland, the Slovak Republic and the United
States), during the 1980s‟ and 1990s‟, some public schools were given more autonomy from educational
EDU/WKP(2012)3
20
authorities (e.g. in the United States, “charter schools”), at the primary and the lower secondary level. The
existence of this type of autonomous schools allows to include a certain degree of diversity in the supply of
education, as they are allowed to vary in their management, organization and even in some countries,
curriculum.
37. Parents who do not want their children to attend traditional public schools can also, in many
OECD countries, choose government-dependent private schools, that have been promoted by a number of
reforms since the 1980s. Government-dependent private schools are allowed in 27 countries at the primary
level, and in 28 at the lower secondary level out of 36 OECD countries. These schools are generally free of
charge as they are financed by public authorities, thus offering new options for parents and their children.
38. Their importance varies according to countries as shown in Figure 2.2: in some countries, only a
very small portion of the students enrol in government-dependant private schools, but in others, the
majority of the student body attend these schools (65 % of students in the Netherlands, 60 % in Belgium,
50 % in Chile and Ireland, 30 % in the Spanish centros concertados, 20 % in France).
39. The success of diverse school providers, such as magnet and charter schools, and other types of
autonomous schools show that many parents are willing to exercise school choice, in order to find higher
quality education for their children, without leaving the public education system (Fuller and Elmore, 1996),
while also allowing to develop positive externalities that dynamise the rest of the school system (Blank,
Levine and Steel, 1996). Therefore, supporters of autonomous schools and government-dependant private
schools argue that they can improve student achievement and attainment, serve as laboratories for
innovation, provide choice to families that have few options, and promote healthy competition with
traditional public schools.
Financing school choice between private and public schools
Universal voucher schemes: mechanisms to incentivise and extend school choice
40. In some countries, financial mechanisms exist to promote school choice and are also available for
private schools. Parents are given a voucher (that can also be virtual, if school funding is per-student and
money follows the child) that covers the costs of tuition of the school they wish to attend, or they can be
offered tuition tax credits to offset the price of private school. This type of configuration is nevertheless not
very common in OECD countries, and the precise design of these mechanisms can vary quite significantly
from country to country (Table 2.5). Vouchers are also more wide-spread for government-dependant
private schools than for independent private schools.
EDU/WKP(2012)3
21
Table 2.5. Financial mechanisms to promote school choice at the lower secondary level (2009)
Public schools
Government-
dependent
private schools
Independent
private schools
Public schools
Government-
dependent
private schools
Independent
private schools
Government-
dependent
private schools
Independent
private schools
Austria No No No No No aNo No
Belgium (Fl.) Yes Yes No No No aNo m
Belgium (Fr.) Yes Yes No No No aNo a
Chile Yes Yes a Yes Yes a No No
Czech Republic No No a Yes Yes a No a
Denmark No No No No No aNo No
England a a No No No aNo No
Estonia Yes Yes a Yes Yes a Yes a
Finland a a a Yes Yes a No a
France Yes Yes No Yes Yes No No No
Germany Yes Yes a No No a Yes a
Greece No aNo No a a a No
Hungary No No a Yes Yes a No a
Iceland No No a Yes Yes a No a
Ireland No aNo Yes a No aNo
Israel Yes Yes a No No mNo No
Italy Yes a No No aNo a Yes
Japan No aNo No aNo aNo
Korea No No aNo No aNo a
Luxembourg No No No No No No No No
Mexico a a a No a a a No
Netherlands No No No Yes Yes Yes No No
New Zealand Yes Yes Yes No No No No No
Norw ay No No No No No aNo No
Poland Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes No No
Portugal a a a No Yes Yes Yes Yes
Scotland No No No Yes m Yes No Yes
Slovak Republic Yes Yes a Yes Yes a No a
Spain Yes Yes a No No aNo No
Sweden No No a Yes Yes a No a
Switzerland No No No No No aNo No
United States a a Yes m a Yes a Yes
School vouchers (also referred to as
scholarships) are available and
applicable
Funding follows students w hen they
leave for another public or private
school
(w ithin the school year)
Tuition tax credits are
available to help families
offset costs of private
schooling
1. a indicates that no data is available.
Source: OECD (2011), Education at a Glance 2011: OECD Indicators, OECD, Paris.
41. The Flemish educational system (Belgium) is characterized by a large autonomy for schools, a
public funding for all schools and an almost unlimited parental choice. Indeed, parents and students can
choose among different providers and most importantly, they can choose among a diversity of schools.
There is an important amount of competition among schools, differentiated along religious lines, pedagogy
EDU/WKP(2012)3
22
or by the governing body that organizes them (municipality, confession, non-profit organization). As
money depends on the number of students enrolled and schools are not allowed to charge extra fees, this
represents a virtual voucher for parents to choose the school of their choice, among all schools, public and
private. Until 2003, school choice was largely unregulated and operated as a quasi-market (Cantillon,
2009) as parents could choose any school for their children and schools were free to set their admission
policies. This configuration was not positive for equity, as schools were able to select their students, by for
example starting registration long in advance, of which disadvantaged parents were unaware of. From
2003, new admission policies for all schools were established, on the basis of "first come, first served",
with a common registration data for all schools, publicly communicated. Schools are no longer allowed to
be selective and have to give priority to siblings of children already in the schools and children from
disadvantaged background. Since 2008, schools can also use geographical criteria when demand for a
school exceeded its capacity.
Box 2.4. Spotlight on Sweden’s voucher system
The Swedish voucher reform is particularly interesting for three reasons:
The reform was radical: in 1992, a universal voucher system has replaced the previous centralized system
of school financing and school choice was introduced. Parents were allowed to use a virtual voucher,
equivalent in value to the average cost of educating a child in a public school, in the public or private school
they wish. Schools cannot select students on any other basis than “first-come-first serve”. Parents cannot
“top up” the voucher, which also means that private schools cannot charge any additional fees.
This reform resulted in a very rapid growth of the number of private schools. Any school can be eligible for
public funding, as long as they follow the national curriculum and do not select their students, based on „first
come, first served‟.
Most of these new private schools are non-denominational and compete with public schools for the same
groups of students.
Source : Böhlmark A. and M. Lindahl (2007), “The Impact of School Choice on Pupil Achievement, Segregation and Costs: Swedish
Evidence”, IZA Discussion Paper No. 2786
Universal progressive vouchers
42. A number of countries have developed choice schemes that aim to respond to both choice and
equity concerns. In the Netherlands, formula funding with additional weights for disadvantaged students
was adopted for all primary schools in 1985 and these funding schemes act as a virtual vouchers,
technically universal. The funding attached to each voucher that goes to the school varies according to the
characteristics of the student, and schools receive more funding per students if they enrol students whose
parents have lower educational attainment. Such a system can be defined as a universal progressive
voucher scheme. Although the level of funding for each school is determined by the needs of individual
students, there is no requirement that schools use these extra resources directly on these students. Empirical
research conducted by Ladd and Fiske (2009) show that these mechanisms have succeeded in distributing
differentiated resources to schools according to their different needs: primary schools with a high
proportion of weighted students have on average about 58% more teachers per student, and also more
support staff.
43. Chile also has a progressive voucher scheme: in 1981, the country began financing public and
most private schools with vouchers and equal weights for all students, combined with unrestricted school
choice. This means that public schools and private schools that do not charge tuition received a per-student
EDU/WKP(2012)3
23
voucher of the same amount, as fee charging selective private schools continue operating without public
funding. Research indicates that it significantly increased segregation between schools (Elacqua, 2009). In
2008, the system was reformed and the flat-rate voucher was turned into weighted one, to provide more
resources for students from lower socio-economic background: the value of the voucher is 50% higher for
students from low socio-economic backgrounds and for indigenous children, and in 2011 the voucher has
been increased 21% for the most disadvantaged students (approximately 40% of the recipients). There is
preliminary evidence that shows that this weighted voucher system can mitigate the segregation effects
between schools (Elacqua, 2009).
44. Some countries have universal but partial voucher systems; as is the case in Australia. Since
1974, every student who chooses to enrol in a private school can obtain a government subsidy worth
between 15 % and 85 % of total tuition costs3. The level of the subsidy (combined federal and state grant)
varies according to the financial means of the students‟ families, and there are government regulations on
how the money should be spent (Watson and Ryan, 2009).
Targeted voucher programmes to incentivise disadvantaged families to choose schools
45. Targeted vouchers are part of a further set of choice policies that allow certain students (in the
basis for example of their family income, education, school they attend) to choose private as well as public
schools. Their aim is to provide choice and alternative educational opportunities to families that cannot
easily exercise choice by residential selection or by attending private schools. Most of these programmes
are not nation-wide, but operate at a local level, in a school district for example.
46. This is the case of Milwaukee‟s (Wisconsin) voucher programme. This targeted programme is
one of the oldest still operating in the United States, as it began operation in 1990, and also one of the most
extended. Under this programme, private schools receive public funds equivalent to the Milwaukee public
school per-member state aid tuition fees for the student (maximum tuition level: $6.607). Only children
from low income families that attend public schools can apply for a voucher4. Ohio‟s educational choice
scholarship pilot programme, implemented in 2006, is a state-wide system in which vouchers for private
schools are provided to students in repeating failing schools (213 schools in 34 school districts in early
2008).
3 Students attending independent schools (18 % of secondary school students) receive a federal voucher weighted accordingly to
their neighbourhood‟s socio-economic status, plus an additional grant from the state government (about half of the
federal one). Catholic schools (22 % of students) receive a combined federal and state grant that covers 85 % of the
school‟s costs.
4 In 2008, this programme served 19 414 students.
EDU/WKP(2012)3
24
Conclusion
47. The analysis of the development and availability of school choice schemes shows that choice has
become prevalent across OECD countries, and is increasing. Choice depends on the way education is
provided: on one side are countries in which almost all schools are public, while in the other extreme are
education systems in which education is delivered by private providers supported with public funding. The
difference of choice schemes depends on the type of education provision, with choice varying within
public schools or across public and government funded private providers of education or private providers.
48. There are more possibilities for parents to exercise choice in secondary education as opposed to
primary education. Geographical assignment is the main approach to assign children to schools, but there is
a general trend in OECD countries to allow parents to choose beyond their local neighbourhood school.
This is done through different schemes such as changing catchment areas, or establishing criteria for
schools to select their students, or making them more flexible. In addition, another trend that appears is the
repeated efforts to extend school choice in the public sector or under its control by enhancing the
development of more diverse provision of education: specialized schools, autonomous public schools, and
publicly-funded private schools.
49. There are two main types of school choice schemes which are very different theoretically:
universal and targeted programmes. Universal programmes (universal voucher, open enrolment, etc.) are
based on the libertarian argument that parents have the right to choose the school for their children and on
the idea that the generalized introduction of market mechanisms can make schooling systems more
efficient. On the other hand, targeted programmes (such as vouchers for low income students) are more
based on the assumption that some students have a disadvantage (due to family, socio economic status
background, etc), and that they would benefit from a “special” treatment that would allow them to move to
higher performing schools. Giving them choice would allow them to benefit from better schools and
contribute to more equity and social cohesion. The next chapter reviews the effects of these programmes
on students, schools and educational systems.
EDU/WKP(2012)3
25
3. SCHOOL CHOICE AND ITS IMPACT ON EQUITY
The impact of school choice on student performance: “grand claim, modest evidence5
50. The question of whether school choice improves the quality of schooling is subject of hearty
debate, as reviewed in the introduction. There are two arguments to support this. First, students might be
able to have access to higher quality schools, or schools that suit their needs and their interest more
adequately. Second, choice theoretically induces competition among schools, which would provide them
with an incentive to improve their quality (Böhlmark and Lindahl, 2007). Choice should improve average
school achievement by reallocating students and resources from inefficient schools to efficient ones,
increasing the overall quality of schools. In this case, the extent to which school choice improves student
achievement relies‟ on parents‟ capacity and willingness to sent their children to better schools. This
chapter reviews the empirical evidence on the impact of choice on student and school performance,
especially focused on disadvantaged students and schools.
The impact of school choice for those opting out (exiting their local school)
51. Testing the impact of exercising choice (leaving their local school) on student outcomes has been
proven to be difficult methodologically, due to the highly selective nature of those who exercise choice
(Ozek, 2009). Indeed, the main issue is that those who exercise choice might differ for their non-chooser
peers along unobservable characteristics, such as their motivation to excel, that have an impact in itself on
their achievement6. The literature highlights the difficulties in assessing the link between opting out of the
local school and improved educational outcomes. Critics of choice worry that they might skim the cream-
enrolling the best students at the expense of lower achievers lefts in their neighbourhood schools and that
school choice may further stratify an already stratified system.
52. To overcome these methodological obstacles, a significant body of research analyses randomized
lotteries, usually employed in school districts and schools to determine the assignment in oversubscribed
schools. Comparing student performance between lottery winners and losers, these studies find no
significant benefit in terms of achievement in attending another public school than their local one for
transferring students (e.g. Cullen, Jacob and Levitt, 2006 ; Hastings, Kane and Staiger, 2005, 2006). Cullen
and Jacob (2007) also exploit randomized lotteries among primary and secondary schools in the Chicago
school district and find no overall improvement in academic achievement among lottery winners that get
admitted to the school of their choice, compared to lottery losers who stay in their assigned school.
53. Nevertheless, some studies do highlight the benefit of opting out for certain groups of students.
Hastings, Kane and Staiger (2005, 2006) find that those whose parents have a strong preference for
academic quality experience significant achievement gains as a result of attending their chosen school. On
the other hand, children whose parents weighted academic excellence less heavily experience academic
losses in compared to similar children that stayed in the local school.
5 Fuller and Elmore, 1996, page 11.
6 As explained by Ozek (2009), if there are unobservable characteristics that influence the probability of changing schools,
traditional ordinary least-squares approach fails to provide unbiased estimates of the casual relationship between
choosing another school and student outcomes.
EDU/WKP(2012)3
26
54. Ozek (2009) uses another method to estimate the causal relationship between choosing and
student‟s results, using data from the entire primary and lower secondary school student population of
Pinellas Country in the United States between 2001 and 2005. This case study is very interesting as parents
are since 2003 now allowed to choose among any public school in this school district. He finds that there
are no significant benefits of choice on test scores. Additionally he concludes that the students who leave
their local schools often perform significantly worse in reading than similar students who did not change
schools. But the effects are not the same for every subgroup in the sample, as shown by the studies based
on randomized lotteries. Ozek studied more particularly the effects of opting out for children that were
originally assigned to low performing schools, or schools where the majority of students are eligible for
free lunch (“high poverty schools”), and he found that these children experience higher gains in terms of
test scores than students that attend more advantaged schools.
55. Using similar approaches, Hsieh and Urquiola (2006) found that benefiting from increased school
choice has no positive effect on student achievement in Chile. However, Dijkgraaf et al. (2008) found that
attending a private school has a positive effect on student achievement in the Netherlands, even after
controlling for students‟ socioeconomic background, and correcting for selection effects. In the same way,
Hoxby (2003) also concluded that students‟ achievement increased when they attended the school of their
choice, using data from the United States (but without controlling for selection effects).
56. Zimmer et al. (2011) used a longitudinal, within-student analysis, using student fixed-effect
variables, to measure the impact of attending an autonomous public school (charter school in the United
States). This approach is very interesting methodologically, as it allows controlling for any time-invariant
characteristics, such as socio-economic status (SES) and ability that do have an impact on performance.
This added-value approach allows to measure the benefit of attending a charter school on a student‟s
performance. They follow students moving between traditional public schools and charter schools to
examine the distribution of students both by socio-economic background and by ability. In 5 out of 7 case-
studies (cities, or State), they find no substantial gains for students that transferred to charter schools than
those from local schools. However, in Chicago and Texas, charter schools perform significantly worse than
public schools. Lubienski and Lubienski (2006) have similar findings: after controlling for student‟s socio-
economic characteristics, students in charters schools perform below public schools.
57. Rouse and Barrow (2008) reviewed research papers that evaluate the impact of charter schools on
student achievement, comparing the achievement of students who switch to charter schools to those who
stay in the traditional public schools. They show that these studies typically find that the achievement of
students in charter schools is no greater than in public schools7. They also review the econometric studies
that use individual-level fixed effects, to capture non observable variables, such as their intrinsic
motivation to succeed in school8: the papers they reviewed find that charter schools have a slight negative
impact on a student‟s performance gains, compared to their performance if they would have stayed in their
local school.
58. How do students who attend private schools perform, compared to students who attend public
schools? As student characteristics, such as their socio-economic status, differ between public and private
schools and also as in some countries, private schools are unevenly spread across different school types,
such as general and vocational programmes, which may, in turn, be related to performance (OECD, 2007),
there is no straight forward answer.
59. A systematic comparison using PISA data by Dronkers and Robert (2003) on the effectiveness of
public schools, private-dependent and private independent schools in 22 OECD countries founds that,
7 For example, Eberts and Hollenbeck (2002), Bettinger (2005).
8 The studies by Sass (2006), Bifulco and Ladd (2006), Hanushek et al. (2007).
EDU/WKP(2012)3
27
although a large part of the achievement differences between public and private-dependant schools can be
attributed to differences in the composition of the student body, private dependent schools still have a
higher achievement in reading than comparable public schools. They hypothesize that government-
dependent schools are more effective because they combine two benefits: a steady stream of funding,
allowing them to plan ahead, and institutional autonomy (Perry, 2007).
60. The results from PISA 2009 (OECD, 2010) suggest within OECD countries, on average, students
who attend private schools (irrespective of whether they are publicly or privately funded) perform 25 score
points higher in reading than students who attend public schools and this is the case in 15 OECD countries,
although this difference varies depending on student and school characteristics. Students who attend
private schools are also from more advantaged socio-economic backgrounds, so part of the positive
relationship between private schools and performance is due to the socio-economic characteristics of the
school and students, rather than to an advantage intrinsic in private schools. After accounting for the socio-
economic and demographic characteristics of students and schools, the OECD average is reduced to 3.4
score points and is no longer statistically significant. The conclusion is that there are no differences in
overall performance in relation to the extent of private schooling within a country9.
9 Only 3 countries show a clear advantage in attending private school: in Slovenia, Canada and Ireland, students of
similar backgrounds who attend private schools score at least 24 points higher in the reading assessment
than students who attend public schools. In contrast, in Japan and the United Kingdom, students from
similar backgrounds who attend private schools score at least 31 points lower than students who attend
public schools.
EDU/WKP(2012)3
28
Figure 3.1. Performance differences between public and private schools measured on the PISA 2009 reading
scale
Difference in performance on the reading scale between public and private schools after accounting for the PISA index
of economic, social and cultural status of students (2009)
-100 -80 -60 -40 -20 020 40 60 80 100
Australia
Korea
Israel
Ireland
Canada
Spain
Luxembourg
Chile
Slovenia
Portu gal
Slova k Republic
Denmark
United States
Finland
Swed en
Netherlands
Poland
Czech Republic
Estonia
OECD average
Austria
New Zealan d
Greece
Hungary
Germany
United Kingdom
Mexico
Switzerland
Japan
Italy
Differen ce in performance between public and private schools
Difference in performance between public a nd private schools after accounting for the socio-economic b ackg round of students
Performance advantage of
private schools
Performance advantage
of public schools
1. No data for France
Source: OECD (2010b), PISA 2009 Results: What Makes a School Successful?: Resources, Policies and Practices (Volume IV),
OECD, Paris.
61. Dronkers and Avram (2010) use propensity score matching, to take into account that the students
that attend government-dependant private schools are self-selected, and they also find that the students that
attend private-dependent schools perform significantly better than their counterpart from public schools in
9 countries (Belgium, the Czech Republic, Germany, Hungary, Ireland, the Netherlands, Portugal, Chile
and Canada). However in Austria students in private dependant schools have lower reading scores than
EDU/WKP(2012)3
29
those attending public school, and in most countries they find no significant difference between the scores
of students in both types of schools (Denmark, Finland, France, Italy, Luxembourg, Norway, the Slovak
Republic, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland and Korea).
62. Parents choose private schools for other reasons: even though there may be no performance
advantage for private schools after accounting for socioeconomic background, private schools may still be
an attractive alternative for parents who want to capitalise on the socio-economic advantages that these
schools offer, including student peers from advantaged backgrounds, or additional resources or practices
that can be found in more socio-economically advantaged schools (OECD, 2010).
63. Therefore, critics worry that even though autonomous and government-dependent private schools
perform no better than public schools, they exacerbate stratification by ethnic origin and ability. Indeed, in
most of the OECD countries (for example, in the United States, Hungary, Austria, Poland, Czech
Republic), autonomous and specialized schools are often competitive and selective, and they tend to attract
the privileged parents. There are also concerns and that this harms the students left in public schools, as
financial resources and motivated families are skimmed away (Zimmer et al., 2009).
The impact of school choice for those staying in their local schools
64. One of the arguments for school choice is that as the types of choice increase, there will be
competitive pressures on public schools to improve. Hoxby‟s research paper (2003) presents empirical
evidence on how choice affects school productivity and student achievement (data from Milwaukee,
Michigan and Arizona), through the competition it creates among public and private establishments. Her
findings reveal that student achievement and productivity in public schools increased strongly in response
to significant competition from vouchers programmes and charter schools. This “competition effect” is
especially strong for the public schools that initially had below-average achievement, as they are forced to
become more productive. She concluded that “school choice is a tide that lifts all boats10”. Nevertheless,
the evidence shows that this effect is not strong enough to counterbalance the negative effects for public
schools of having the most motivated students leave to private schools on a period shorter than 20 years
(Hoxby, 2003).
65. This report was reviewed by other researchers: Ladd (2003) reviews Hoxby‟s findings and
suggests an alternative explanation: to the extend it is the students with below-average test scores who opt
out of the traditional public schools, these schools experience higher gain in test scores, not due to the
effects of competition and a rise in their productivity, but simply to a change in their student body
composition. Rothstein (2007) also assesses Hoxby‟s study and finds that her results depend on how the
instrumental variable is constructed (Rouse and Barrow, 2008). Hoxby‟s methodological choices seem
highly controversial, as they lack robustness. Many studies are faced with similar methodological issues:
Belfield and Levin (2001) did a comprehensive review of the effects on public schools of competition from
private schools, and they reported that over half of the estimates from 14 studies they review were
statistically insignificant, and that the studies that did find positive effects were too small or/and
questionable methodologically.
10 Nevertheless, there are certain methodological limits to her approach (Godwin and Kemerer, 2002, page 55): data
availability is limited to secondary schools, so it is not certain whether the competition effect has an impact
in earlier stages of education when the learning curve for students is the steepest. Also, there might be a
selection bias to the study as private schools can select their students and the study does not control factors
such as motivations of the students and parental expectations for those who send their children to private
schools. Godwin and Kemerer (2002) conclude that the evidence is not very robust to say that competition
with private schools make public ones more efficient.
EDU/WKP(2012)3
30
66. Sandstrom and Bergstrom (2005) use data from Swedish public and private schools students and
show that the increased school choice in Sweden since the 1990s has lead to an improvement in public
school results, due to an increased degree of competition between schools. They conclude that this
competition effect is especially strong when the quality of public school is low. Böhlmark and Lindahl
(2007) try to calculate the precise impact of the competition effect in Sweden: they separate the private
school attendance effect from the competition effect, using variation in school choice between siblings.
The individual gain from attending a private school is estimated to be only a small part of the total effect;
therefore, the total achievement gain effect is driven by other people‟s choice of private schools. They
conclude that an increase in the private school-share of 10 % increases average student achievement by
1%, due to more competition among schools.
67. However, Dijkgraaf et al (2008) show that using another methodology (measuring the extent of
competition in terms of market shares), the results are no longer statistically significant and sometimes
negative11. The explanation suggested by the authors is that competition does not improve student
performance because schools that have to compete among each other compete not on academic quality, but
rather on secondary elements such as sport and music facilities, and the attractiveness of the building. A
study by Andersen (2008) on the Danish voucher systems found similar conclusions: there is no average
effect on achievement of competing against other schools. His finding is that to put into place a voucher
scheme is not enough to raise school performance, as parents also choose schools for reasons other than the
school‟s academic quality.
68. Additionally, the existence of autonomous public schools provides another mean to study the
potential competition effects on traditional public schools. Bettinger (2006), Bilfulco and Ladd (2006) and
Sass (2006) estimate whether being near a charter school, and therefore having to compete with it for
students, improves the results of students in traditional public schools. Bettinger (2006) and Bilfulco and
Ladd (2006) find no evidence that the achievement of students who remain in their local traditional public
school improve with the competition of charter schools, although Sass (2006) found some improvement in
mathematic achievement. Zimmer et al. (2009) find no evidence that charter schools are positively
affecting the achievement of students in nearby public schools and they conclude that “charter-school
competition is unlikely to create a rising tide of school performance (p 8)”.
69. Overall, only a few studies find a link between increased choice and enhanced student outcomes,
and when they do exist, the effects are quite small and not always statistically significant, partly due to
methodological difficulties. However, cross-country correlations of PISA do not show a relationship
between the degree of competition and student performance. Among school systems in the OECD
countries, the proportion of schools that compete with other schools for student enrolment seems unrelated
to the school system‟s overall student performance, with or without accounting for socio-economic
background (OECD, 2010a; OECD, 2011). The majority of the evidence suggests that different schemes of
school choice (open enrolment, charter schools) dot not, through the competition they create for local
schools, induce them to improve, nor those it improve the student achievement of those who take
advantage of more school choice and opt out of their local school as the evidence reviewed shows.
The impact of targeted school choice programmes (vouchers)
70. In the United States, there are a number of interesting studies that focus on the effects of voucher
programmes, on those benefiting from them, but also on those that are not participating. In studies
11 They use data from the Netherlands to measure the effects of competition on achievement, and find that when more
schools compete against each other for student in a precise area, the effects on student achievement is
negative, and that on the contrary, less competition leads to better student achievement, and therefore,
improves the quality of education.
EDU/WKP(2012)3
31
comparing voucher students to a randomly selected comparison group of students in the Milwaukee public
schools and controlling for students background characteristics, Witte (1996, 2011) reported higher
parental satisfaction for voucher students, but did not find a positive effect on their achievement. Rouse
(1997) also found no consistent impact on reading, but found a small positive impact in mathematics:
voucher students gained between 1.5 and 2.3 percentile points per year in math, but no consistent impact
on reading, in the first years of the programmes.
71. Criticizing these approaches, Peterson et al (2005, 2011) rely on an experimental design that
longitudinally examine test scores of students who won the voucher lotteries compared to students who lost
the lottery and did not receive a voucher in New York City, Washington D.C., and Dayton. They estimate
that the children that enrol after two years in a private school thanks to the voucher have on national
reading and math tests a score higher by 6 % on average than members of a control group remaining in
public school. They also highlight that African American students benefit the most from the vouchers. This
study also reports higher parental satisfaction levels for voucher-users, fewer discipline problems, more
communication with schools, and more student homework than parents in the control group.
72. Other research has raised the questions about whether this is merely the consequence of shock
effects, that then wears off through time. This idea has been further supported by research showing no
significant improvement in schools that face increased competition. Rouse and Barrow (2008) review the
evidence on the impact of education vouchers on student achievement on a long period of time and find no
significant gains in any publicly and privately funded voucher programmes in the United States. Although
there is some evidence that African American benefit from attending a private school in one New York
City study, studies using alternative methodologies, with the same sample are less robust in their findings
(Howell and Peterson, 2002 and Mayer et al., 2002).
73. As a conclusion, studies of voucher programmes have found little or no effects for children using
vouchers to attend public schools, and that studies that have found larger gains have been harshly criticized
on methodological grounds. Nevertheless, these studies have furthered the ongoing debate about whether
vouchers are beneficial for disadvantaged students and are worthy of public investment. Research on the
charter movement has indicated relative academic benefits from these types of schools in some states, but
detriments in others, and studies of national samples in the United States have not been too promising. The
lack of clear evidence on the academic benefits of choice are even more surprising since the programmes
that were evaluated operate under certain advantages12. Also, these targeted school programmes rely on the
idea that parents are inclined to choose better schools for their children, if they are given that possibility.
Nevertheless, in practice, school choice plans usually depend on parents to get and filter the information.
Even if there are potential productivity effects of such programmes, critics worry about its effects in
inequity.
School choice poses risks that can exacerbate inequities
74. Not only is it important to understand the effects of school choice on student outcomes, but also it
is important to understand another issue of critical relevance: the mechanisms and processes of how
parents choose schools (Berends, Cannata and Goldring, 2011). Supporters of school choice argue that if
parents are free to choose the school of their choice for their children, they will actively compare the
qualities of alternative schools and push for better quality and more accountability at the level of their
neighbourhood. To see empirically if this is the case, it is necessary to divide this question in two:
12 Since they are all voluntary choosers, they are composed of parents that are informed and willing to get involved in their kids‟
education, and therefore are perceived as being better judge of quality education and where to get it (which schools to
choose) than similar parents (same socioeconomic characteristics) who don‟t participate.
EDU/WKP(2012)3
32
1. Are certain types of parents more likely to exercise choice and exit the school close to their
home?
2. If so, and if parents tendency to exercise choice varies according to certain of their
characteristics (such as their income, their ethnicity), will school choice reinforce socio-economic
inequities in education?
Certain types of parents are more likely to exercise choice
75. Research on parental choice seems unanimous: more affluent parents are more likely to exercise
school choice. In the Netherlands, a study showed that parents that take their children out of their local
schools have a higher socio-economic status than the ones who do not: 35% of parents that do not sent
their children to the local school, 35 % are upper-level employee, while 10 % are working class (Denessen,
Sleegers and Smit, 2001). Similar evidence can be found elsewhere: studies of choice programmes in the
United States (such as Witte, 1996) have shown for example that choosing parents are better educated and
more involved in their children‟s education than parents whose children attend local public schools.
Similarly, Wells (1996) found that disadvantaged families who participated in a certain choice programme
(the St Louis plan) came from relatively more educated families than others. Martinez, Godwin and Smith
(1996) highlighted that students and parents who chose magnet schools over regular public school were
significantly more educated than those who did not attend, even after controlling for income level. Willms
and Echols (1993) similarly concluded that parents in Scotland who exercised choice had more education
than those who did not.
76. In fact, many parents do not choose even when they are offered several school choice options, in
particular parents of minority ethnic backgrounds and from low socio-economic background. Many school
choice arrangements are designed to empower low income families. But empirical studies show that low
income families are quite diverse in their commitment towards their children‟s schooling and the
importance they give to it, and in their use of school choice (if they look for alternatives to their local
neighbourhood school and if they do, toward which alternative do they oriented themselves). Parents also
choose differently depending on their SES level: some studies on magnet schools show that better off and
more educated parents give more important to quality when choosing a school for their child than other
parents, from lower SES level, who may value more other factors, such as proximity and familiarity of
local schools (Elmore and Fuller, 1996), and these selection patterns bias enrolment in school choice
towards upper socioeconomic status students.
77. The main issue is that it is very difficult to entice parents to exercise choice: Henig‟s study of
student transfer to magnet schools (1996) in Montgomery County (United States) suggests that the range of
diversity in academic emphases and teaching styles that are available is insufficient to motivate minority
families to transfer. In the same way, even if the No Child Left Behind Act offered parents of children
attending “failing” schools to choose another school, the vast majority of parents (up to 97 % according to
Ben-Porath (2009)) chose not to change schools.
78. To understand differences in how parents choose schools for their children, PISA asked parents a
series of questions regarding school choice in eight OECD countries (Chile, Denmark, Germany, Hungary,
Italy, Korea, New Zealand and Portugal).While parents from all backgrounds cite academic achievement
as an important consideration when choosing a school for their children, socio-economically advantaged
parents are, on average, 10 percentage points more likely than disadvantaged parents to cite that
consideration as “very important” (PISA Volume IV).
79. Information is the key component in school choice and it is essential for parents to collect the
available information and to analyse it, in order to make an optimal decision. The reason of why less
EDU/WKP(2012)3
33
affluent parents exercise choice less may be that they have access to less information, or lower quality
information, and may not have the adequate resources. Haeringer and Klijn (2005) highlighted that parents,
when they have to choose (by summiting a preference list) adopt strategic behaviours and manipulate their
preferences, applying to a “safety school”, even if it is not the optimal choice for them. Experimentally,
they show that this has a large negative effect on efficiency, and that it increases segregation, as more
educated parents have the skills and social capacity to elaborate the more effective strategy to get their
children into their preferred schools. Consequently, it is possible to say that “The evidence in question is
that those who take advantage of [school choice programmes], even when they are targeted to the poor, are
not all of the poor, or the poorest of the poor, but the putatively most ambitious among the poor. The main
beneficiaries are children whose parents have the personal resources to take up the opportunity and
negotiate the [choice schemes] (pag 24)” (Feinberg and Lubienski, 2008).
80. The evidence that has been briefly reviewed here shows that information acquisition has very
high costs, especially for parents who lack the needed social capital, the resources, the time, the
connections or the cultural resources to effectively choose. Additionally, it is also costly to develop an
adequate strategic behaviour with the information collected, which is very demanding, and “the resources
necessary for making informed choices about schools is not available for many parents” (Ben-Porath,
2009, pag 536), especially when choice mechanisms can also change and evolve very quickly.
81. All in all, concerns about whether families particularly less educated ones and minorities, have
enough information to make informed decisions, and whether parental preferences will lead parents to
select schools based on the ethnic or socio-economic status composition of their students, rather than on
academic quality, seem to be justified. Even though theoretically, choice can be introduced into schooling
systems to improve the opportunities disadvantaged children can receive, at the same time, the same policy
arrangements have other effects that hinder equity, as the possibility of exercising choice is not the same
for all parents. Indeed, “let‟s suppose that explicit choice has no benefits for the lowest 10 % of achievers,
but does raise the achievement of the next 10 percent thus increasing the gap between the lowest 10
percent and the rest; but decreases the gap between the next 10 percent and the subsequent deciles. Has the
system improved, or worsened, with respect to equity?” (Brighouse, 2000).
Parents may choose schools for reasons other than academic performance
82. Why and how do parents choose schools? The key element in much of the thinking on school
choice is that parental preferences for schools revolve around academic quality. But research shows that
reasons that parents lead to a choice of school, or simply not to choose, are much more complex that just
based on academically rational reasons: they choose schools not only on academic considerations but also
student demographics, location, after school activities, their children‟s friendships, etc.
83. Using data from the implementation of a district-wide public school choice plan in North
Carolina (Mecklenburg Country), Hastings, Kane and Staiger (2005) estimate parental preferences for
school characteristics, using parental rankings of their top three choices of schools matched with student
demographic and test score data. They find parents have different preferences over schools, even after
controlling for income and academic achievement. These heterogeneous parental preferences may lead to
“vertical separation across schools: this means that schools perceived by parents as high quality may
compete intensely for students with strong preferences for school quality, while neighbourhood schools
may serve the remaining students with strong preferences for proximity and lower preferences for school
quality.
84. Even if parents that have chosen charter schools typically affirm that their choices are based
primarily on teacher quality, on the quality of the academic programmes, and on the schools approaches to
discipline) (e.g. Arizona Board of Charter Schools, 2003 ; Texas Education Agency, 2003 in OECD,
EDU/WKP(2012)3
34
2006), a study showed that the majority of parents were incorrect in their assessment of schools academic
quality: only 44 % were satisfied with the highest performing schools and 15 % were highly satisfied with
the worst schools (Bast and Walberg, 2004). A study in Chile also show that parents have tenuous sources
of information and are largely incorrect when asked to identify high quality and low quality schools (Gauri,
1999). Woodfield and Gunby‟s study (2003) on New Zealand conclude that the parents‟ assessments of
„high quality” were probably based on the socio-economic characteristics of the students, rather than an
actual academic quality
85. Although parents may be concerned about equity and integration and may support their
neighbourhood school, they seek at the same time the “best” education for their children (Raveaud and Van
Zanten, 2007). For parents, there are both educational and social reasons to choose a school (Denesse,
Sleegers, Smit, 2001), such religious view, linkages to community, socio-economic status level of the other
students (OECD, 2006). Research shows that parents prefer schools with populations ethnically and socio-
economically similar to their own family (Fiske and Ladd, 2000, for New Zealand; McEwan and Carnoy,
2000, for Chile; Willms and Echols, 1993, for Scotland, Cullen, Jacob and Levitt, 2000, for Chicago,
Crozier et al, 2008 for the United Kingdom, Raveaud and Van Zanten, 2007 for France13). Fiske and Ladd
(2000 talk about a “flight of students to schools with higher socio-economic status. Many empirical
studies reveal this “flight” of more advantaged parents to certain schools, increasing between school
segregation.
Wells (1996) studied the characteristics of the low-income minority parents that participated in
the St. Louis inter-district transfer programme. The evidence suggested that in selecting between
the 160 suburban schools available to their children, very few parents considered the specific
educational offering of the individual schools, but rather the social status of schools.
A study by Denessen, Sleegers and Smit (2001) based on the Netherlands concluded that schools
are segregated not because they have different performance levels, but rather because parents‟
perception of their social climate varies according to the proportion of minority students in the
school.
Riedel et al. (2009) focusing on one major German city in North-Rhine Westphalia showed that
parents take into account the socio-economic composition of a school‟s student body and its
share of migrant students when making their choice.
In a study reviewing the existing research, Dronkers and Avram (2010) highlight that children
who have parents more concerned with education have more odds to be sent to private schools,
and that the average SES of the student body of a school influences greatly the parents‟ choice,
therefore leading to more segregation by ability and by socio-economic status.
86. The flight of higher SES students from schools with lower SES or higher concentrations of
migrants can have a negative effect on equity. As disadvantaged families tend to send their children to their
local school, more advantaged families make segregating choices: as a result, the level of segregation in
schools is high and exceeds the level of residential segregation.
13 Raveaud and Van Zanten (2007) after conducting interviews of middle class parents in Paris and in London find
that these parents have chosen their children‟s schools because they are considered to have a sufficient
number of middle class children to influence the learning context and general atmosphere, but also because
the concentration of certain middle class groups sharing similar resources and similar values favours the
emergence of a local norm that presents choice of the local school as the normal and good thing to do.
Parents naturally explain that they want „the best‟ for their child.
EDU/WKP(2012)3
35
87. As seen earlier, enhanced school choice is often justified as a strategy for improving educational
opportunities. This is based on the idea that disadvantaged parents are trapped by circumstances in bad
schools, so that providing them a way out of these schools, through voucher schemes for example, or open
enrolment is a way to provide chances for these parents to put their children into better schools. But we
have also seen that the empirical evidence to show that this is not the case in practice, even in the case of
school choice programmes that were explicitly designed to remedy inequities (like the Milwaukee voucher
programme), the parents who exercise choice are the ones who are relatively more educated and who have
relatively higher incomes (in the low income category), and are more involved in their children‟s schooling
than the parents that do not participate in these programmes. One of the most important questions in the
field of school choice is to study the impact of choice on the sorting and stratification of students across
schools and to see how students will allocate themselves among schools when allowed to choose schools
freely, and if it results in a greater segregation of students, by ability, income, ethnic background.
Parental choice leads to more stratification of school systems: sorting and segmentation
88. Ladd and Walsh (2002) analyse that the flight of students to higher SES schools is consistent
with higher student outcomes, and also with greater gains in test scores from one year to the next. Schools
serving advantaged students are generally considered of higher quality than schools serving disadvantaged
students, because such schools are able to command more resources, and to attract and retain higher quality
teachers: to the extent that the quality of schools serving advantaged students is higher, families who have
the resources to invest in their children‟s education have an incentive to select schools serving advantaged
students (Ladd, Fiske and Ruijs, 2011).
89. Table 6 summarises studies from around the world that show that increased parental choice leads
to more segregated schools than would otherwise be the case. To sum up, while choice can be seen as a
mechanism that levels the “playing field” and provides the same opportunities for all, the evidence shows
that it may not have the intended effects: better-off families and more educated parents are the ones who
exercise choice, and that will enjoy access to a wider variety of schooling options. While the students who
stay in the public schools might theoretically benefit from the effects of competition (as explained earlier),
they might be hurt by the departure of classmates and teachers to the other seemingly higher performing
schools, or might suffer from the loss of resources due to reallocation. Therefore, the introduction of school
choice mechanisms can lead to segregation across schools and to more disadvantages for those who are
worse off.
EDU/WKP(2012)3
36
Table. 3.1. Overview of the existing research on the impact of an increased parental choice on segregation by
ability, by SES and by ethnicity
Stud y
Count ry
studied
Schoo l choice
config uration
Scope Method ology Findin gs
Ladd, Fiske and Ruijs (2009) Netherland s Open enr olment
Examination of the patterns and
trends of segregation of immigrant
students between 1997 and 2005 in
primary schools in 27 cities
Isolation index (measure of the extent to which
disadvantaged immigran t students are in schools with other
students like th emselves), dissimilarity index (measure of the
extent to which immigr ant students are unevenly distributed
across schools),segregation index (a gap-b ased measure of
segregation that measures the extent to which schools are
unbalanced)
Find that migr ant student are highly segregated by schools, and this
segregation has increased over the 9-year-per iod, despite little or no
increase in the proportion of migrants. Close to 80 % of the migrant students
are in schools that hav e more 50 % of their student body composed of
migrants.
Watson and Ryan (2009) Australia
Universal voucher sy ste m
Study of two cohorts of students from
1975 and from 1998, from two
national longitudinal survey s
Examination of data on the socio-economic background of
private school students in the mid-1970' and the late 1990s; to
assess to assess the impact of changed enrolment patte rns on
schools in public and private sector
Find that since the introduction of the voucher system, increase segregation
by income level between public and private schools: public schools have a
higher share of low SES students than private schools than in the 1970s', as
students who transferred from public schools to private tended to be fromthe
top half of the SES distribution.
Ladd and Fiske (2001)
New Zealand
Open enrolment
Study of the distributional effects of
the parental choice in Auckland,
Wellington and Christchurch using
data from the 1991-1997 period.
Regression analysis of government data on the composition
of schools to measure the sorting of students by ethnic and
socioeconomic status
Finds an increase ofstratification by minority status and by SES level over the
period. Ev idence thatpar ents are changing their children from schools w here
the student body is in majority from lower SES and ethnic origins, to schools
with more advantaged stu dent composition.
Woodfield and Gunby (2003)
New Zealand
Open enrolment
They look into the results of the
Ladd and Fiske study.
Focus on the impact of open enrolment on stu dent
achievement and sorting of studen ts.
No evidence that the overall studentachievement level has improved but they
find that the dispersion of performance across schools has increased.
Hsieh and Urquiola (2006) Chile
Universal voucher sy ste m
Panel data for about 150
municipalities, from 1982 to 1988.
Regression analysis to measure the effects of school choice
on educational outcomes, and in particular on school
productivity and sorting (by ability ).
Find no evidence that choice improved average edu cational outcomes.
However, evidence that the voucher program led to increased sorting, as the
best public school students left for private schools.
Elacqua (2009) Chile
Universal voucher sy ste m
Analysis of the da taset from the
Chilean Ministry of Education, with
student level characteristics for
public and voucher schools .
Regression analysis to see what determines the per centage
of disadvantaged students in a school, to study of the
segregation among public and private schools, and also
among private schools.
Finds that public schools are more likely to serve disadvantaged students than
private schools, and private voucher schools “cream skim” off high income
and high ability children from public schools, as parents seek schools in which
their children’s peers are of similar SES background.
Soderstrom and Uusitalo (2005) S weden Open enrolment
Database from the Institute for Labor
Market Policy Evaluation that covers
all the students and that included
information on the students' gender,
age, immigrant status, residence,
grades, parental income, education
and migrant status.
Longitudinal analysis of 4 cohorts of students (1998 to 2001)
to study the distribution of students over schools as
consequence of th e introduction of open enrolment in the city
of Stockholm .Segregation is measured before and after 2000
through a dissimilarity index, along three dimensions: ability ,
immigrant status and family background.
Find that the composition of students across schools has changed, as children
are now much more segregated by ability. Additionally, segreg ation between
migrant and native students has also increased since 2000.
Böhlmark and Lindahl (2007) Sweden Universal vou cher system
Longitudinal panelof students, from
1988-2003, with student and
parental characteristics
Differences-in-differences econometrical approach, to assess
the impact of the 1992 reform and to study the impact of
school choice on segregation between schools along poverty
and ethnical lines
Find more segregation for migrant students since the reform, as parents with
long education ten d to choose private schools fo r their children.
Burgess et al (2005) England In ter-district school choice
Use the Pupil Level Annual School
Census dataset, part of the National
Pupil Dataset. Analy sis of the cohort
which transferred to secondary
school in 1997 and took their final
exams in 2002.
Dissimilarity index to examine the different degree of sorting of
students across schools relative to their sorting across
neighbourhoods. Student sorting is characterized across
three differ ent dimensions: ability, ethnicity and disadvantage.
Find relatively low ability and pov erty segregation, but high ethnic
segregation. They show thatthe more schools available in a neighbourhood,
the more segregated schools are.
Jacott and Maldonado (2006) Spain
Government-dependant
private schools
Country-wide statistical information
about student enrolment by type of
school.
Statistical analysis to see if the pr esence of government-
dependent private schools has increased the segregation of
migrant students in schools.
Find that ther e is an increasing polarization between the student bod y
composition of public schools and centr os concertados: 82 % of immigrants
students in Spain attend public schools and only 18 % , centros concertados in
2003, when centros concertados educate 31.3 % of the total Spanish
students.
Zimmer et al (2009)
United S tates
Charter schools
Longitudinal, student-level data from
Chicago, San Diego, Philadelphia,
Denver, Milwaukee, Ohio, Tex as,
Florida
Examination of the population of students who are transferring
to charter schools, to provide evidence on the effects of
charter schools on ethnical stratification. Comparison of th e
composition of the sending (traditional public) and the
receiving charter school of students transferring to charters.
Find that tr ansfers to charter schools tend to increase ethnical segregation in
Philadelphia and in Texas, when compared to the student body composition
of the tr aditional public schools of the ar ea, but also to reduce it in Chicago.
Riedel et al (2 009) Germany
Public denominational
schools
Data from Wupper tal, a city in North-
Rhine-Westphalia from 2007
Statistical analysis: using individual level data from schools,
on their student body, and the neighbourhood they are in.
Probit regression to deter mine the chara cter istics of students
that choose a differ ent school than their local one.
Find that as disadvantaged families te nd to send their children to their local
school, more advantaged parents make segregating choice, and sent their
children to a denominational school: as a result, the lev el of segregation in
schools is high and exceeds the level of residential segregation.
Schindler Randvid (2007) Denmark Open enrolment
Data from each of the 50
municipalities of the Copenhagen
region.
Calculation of index of dissimilarity for each migrant group,
across municipalities and across schools
Find that Copenhagen combinesa moderate r esidentialsegregation with high
level of school ethnicsegregation and conclude thatit is school choice, and
more particularly private school choice that leads to these high level of
polarization.
Source: see first column for references of the empirical studies
EDU/WKP(2012)3
37
4. DESIGNING SCHOOL CHOICE SCHEMES COMPATIBLE WITH EQUITY
90. The introduction of school choice schemes can correct some of the imperfections of having a sole
public education provider, and to allow each child to benefit from a high quality education. However,
policy makers have to acknowledge that these same policies increase segregation between schools without
necessarily improving school performance. Indeed, the evidence consistently shows that more advantaged
parents are the ones who exercise choice the most, leading to more segregation by socio-economic
background and ability between schools.
91. However, some evidence shows that it is possible to combine school choice and equity, through
well-designed school choice configurations. The previous chapter shows that school choice schemes have
to be well designed and managed, in order to combine parental choice, diversity of supply and to limit the
negative impact that school choice can have on equity. How to make school choice more equitable? How
to adopt school choice policies that gives all parents the opportunity to search out a better education for
their children?
Basic features of choice policies to support equity
92. Some evidence shows that choice can be an effective policy to create opportunities and close
achievement gaps if they are targeted and supported to serve primarily disadvantaged population. They
have to be structured in ways that do not concentrate benefits only for those w ho are already better-off.
93. As the effects of choice programmes are highly dependent on local conditions (for example: the
particular organizational characteristics of a particular school choice programme, the linkage between the
community and the parents, the parents‟ financial and educational resources and their commitment are
highly significant), the local context has to analysed in-depth, as there is no “one-size-fits-all” solution.
However, in order to limit the negative effects, some features have to be taking into account:
Topped-off vouchers should be avoided
94. It has been proven that systems that combine school choice and the possibility to ask for extra
fees to parents are the ones that tend to have more segregation. The New Zealand case is particularly eye-
opening: the decile system (that ranks schools according to the composition of their student body) has
increased the separation of ethnic groups according to schools, as minority and low income students have
been unable to afford the student fees associated with attending a high ranked school, clearly giving an
advantage to well-off families, constraining disadvantaged students in the lower performing schools.
Elacqua‟s study (2009) of Chile also shows that the policies that provide schools with incentives to charge
tuition fees lead to more school segregation. Watson and Ryan (2009) show in a study on the Australian
voucher system that when vouchers that do not cover all the tuition fee are provided to parents, parents
from higher SES groups are more likely to choose private schools than parents from lower SES
background, provoking an increased polarization in the school system. This is due to the fact that private
schools that receive vouchers use the extra resources to increase the quality of schooling, and further
therefore, increase the achievement gap between public and private schools, and the gap between high SES
students and lower SES students.
EDU/WKP(2012)3
38
95. Vouchers should be combined with government regulations on the fees, to ensure that the
voucher is translated into lower fees. If private schools use the extra resources provided by vouchers to
improve quality, while maintaining the same tuition fees, or even increasing them, it will contribute to
further drain advantaged students from public schools.
Selection criteria should be fairer
96. Cream-skimming and further segregation may occur if schools have discretion over admission
criteria, time of registration or tuition fees. For example, better-off and better-informed parents tend to
enrol their children in the school of their choice very early on to obtain a spot in the highest quality schools
(Ladd, Fiske and Ruijs, 2011). If admission policies and student enrolment procedures are homogeneous,
fixed and controlled by a central authority, schools have fewer opportunities to select students.
97. When schools are allowed to apply selective academic and income criteria, this aggravates school
composition segmentation, as oversubscribed schools tend to hand-pick their students, crowding out
disadvantaged students and students with low performance. The criteria to enrol in a school should be the
same for all students, clear and transparent, based on proximity and presence of siblings and on lottery
systems, or on formulas to achieve a heterogeneous mix of students. The proximity to school should also
always be taken into account into the selection criteria when schools are oversubscribed. For instance in
Chile, since 2009, government dependent private schools cannot select students based on academic criteria
or on socio-economic criteria until the end of primary education (Brandt, 2010).
98. Soderstrom and Uusitalo (2005) studied a reform led in the school district of Stockholm that
changed the admission system of public secondary schools. As the city is segregated into neighbourhoods,
the intent of this reform was to improve equity, by making it possible to high achievers from all over the
city to attend the best schools in the high income areas. Whereas students are guaranteed to have a place in
the school nearer to their house, since 2000, the admission is based on student test scores. This has resulted
in a change in the composition of students across schools, with children now much more segregated by
ability, but also by SES and migrant status, the opposite effects to what was intended.
Parents should be supported in making well-informed choice
99. For school choice to be effective, public institutions must take into account the limitation that
certain parents have in making choices, by minimizing the cost of information acquisition. It is extremely
difficult for individuals, especially disadvantaged families, to access information about the results and
quality of a school as they may lack the needed social capital, the resources, the time, the connection, the
cultural resources to effectively participate in choice. The accessibility of information not only reduces the
cost of acquiring it, but also supports the development of skills that improve the quality of the decision
making process (Ben-Porath, 2009).
100. Parents should be informed about alternative schools, the strengths and weaknesses of these, as
well as the dates and procedures for school enrolment. To lower the costs of obtaining this information for
the most disadvantaged parents, it should also available in selected foreign languages and should be
accessible to parents with limited literacy (OECD, 2010c).
101. In some countries performance indicators are published to foster competition, while in others this
information is not published to avoid further segregation. Whatever the rules on publication, information
may not be easy to understand. Value-added information, which measures the actual contribution of the
school, should be preferred to raw performance data (OECD, 2008).
EDU/WKP(2012)3
39
Table 4.1. Information to parents about school choice structures for lower secondary
Government is responsible for
prov iding detailed information on
specific school choice alternatives
within families’ location
The information contains
performance data
Austria Yes No
Belgium (Fl.) No a
Belgium (Fr.) Yes No
Chile Yes Yes
Czech Republic Yes No
Denmark No a
England Yes Yes
Estonia No a
Finland No a
France Yes No
Germany Yes No
Greece Yes m
Hungary Yes Yes
Iceland Yes m
Ireland No a
Israel Yes No
Italy No a
Japan No a
Korea No a
Luxembourg Yes No
Mexico Yes No
Netherlands Yes No
New Zealand Yes Yes
Norway No a
Poland Y es No
Portugal Yes No
Scotland Yes No
Slovak Republic Yes No
Slovenia No a
Spain Yes No
Sweden No a
Switzerland No a
United States Yes Yes
1. a means no information is available.
Source: OECD (2011), Education at a Glance 2011: OECD Indicators, OECD, Paris.
102. Table 4.1 shows that at the lower secondary level, in 12 countries parents are not informed by the
government about school choice options available to them. Furthermore, even when the government is
responsible for providing the information to parents on school choice, in very few cases is data available
on the performance of these schools: only 5 countries (Chile, England, Hungary, New Zealand, the United
States) reported that this type of information are included in the information available for parents.
EDU/WKP(2012)3
40
103. Designers of school choice programmes have to take into consideration that there are parents of
higher SES participate in choice options more often and that they have different preferences, leading to
more stratification per school. The design of school choice programmes should focus more on getting large
proportions of families to choose, rather than simply catering to the preferences of active choosers (Elmore
and Fuller, 1996), through for example targeted and active parent information programmes.
Low performing schools should receive additional support
104. School choice is part of a strategy to promote freedom of choice but also to improve school
performance. Therefore, to ensure higher education quality overall, school choice should be complemented
with strategies to provide effective support to schools that might be performing at non satisfactory levels or
loosing students with the choice arrangements. Only through effective support can the problem of
stratification of schools be diminished.
Combining school choice and equity through well-thought design
105. In many countries, policies efforts are made to tackle the problem of segregation due to school
choice. Two types of design allow combining school choice and more equity: controlled choice
programmes, and progressive voucher schemes.
Controlled choice schemes
106. Controlled choice programmes, also called flexible enrolment plans, are student allocation
schemes that while providing parental choice, also allow to limit segregation issues. These schemes rely on
the introduction of mechanisms to ensure that students are more diversely distributed across schools, by
considering the need to integrate students of different background (in terms of parental socio-economic
status, ethnical origin, etc). They allow families to choose within their zone, provided that their choice will
not upset the ethnic and socio-economic status balance at that school, and that in the event of
oversubscription, disadvantaged and low performing students will not be overcrowded and forced to enrol
in another school (Alves and Willie, 1990).
107. The allocation mechanisms vary across countries, so as their effectiveness: it depends on their
effectiveness in matching parents‟ preferences for quality schools with a consistent application of priority
criteria for disadvantaged students.
108. This approach balances choice while ensuring that schools remain integrated, with the overall
intent of school improvement. A number of education systems use this approach, including the United
States and the Netherlands (Box 4.1). The allocation mechanisms vary across countries, and their exact
design can very much vary, in respect to the priority criteria set and preferences taken into account, leading
to variation in their effectiveness (Abdulkadiro et al, 2006; Ehlers, 2010). Moreover, controlled choice
schemes require a certain level of centralisation, to prevent inefficiencies such as multiple registrations and
higher administrative costs.
EDU/WKP(2012)3
41
Box 4.1. Examples of controlled choice schemes
In Cambridge (United States) there is a choice programme that ranks the preferred schools and reviews and
allocates students centrally, taking capacity and diversity criteria into consideration. This controlled scheme plan was
first implemented in 1981. The Cambridge plan has evolved into a system where new families visit a central
registration area, choose four schools, and rank them in order of preference. The district reviews the lists and tries to
assign students to their choices, but it also tries to ensure that no school exceeds its capacity and all schools reflect
the district's racial and ethnic composition.
A central subscription system to assign students also exists in Nijmegen (Netherlands) for primary schools, to
reach a share of 30% of disadvantaged students in each school. All the primary schools have agreed on a central
subscription system based on the distribution of students in different categories. In the event of oversubscription,
priority is given to siblings and children who live nearby. Subsequent priority is given to either advantaged or
disadvantaged students, in order to reach the required balance, by lottery system. This policy was introduced in April
2009 and has not been evaluated yet. Rotterdam provides an example of double waiting lists, which allow
oversubscribed schools to give preference to children who would enrich their ethnic and socio-economic mix.
Source: Kahlenberg, R. (2006), Helping Children Move From Bad Schools to Good Ones”, Education Week, the Century
Foundation. Ladd H., E. Fiske and N. Ruijs (2011), “Does Parental Choice Foster Segregated Schools? Insights from The
Netherlands” in Berends M., M. Cannata and E. Goldring (Eds), School Choice and School Improvement, Havard Education Press,
Cambridge.
109. Given the strong relationship between student achievement and SES status of a student‟s peers,
choice arrangements that increase integration are likely to increase student achievement as well, since all
students throughout the school can benefit from higher achieving classmates (Hanushek et al., 2003).
Research has shown that the promotion of integration through a comprehensive design has positive effects
for disadvantaged children, without hindering top-performers. The study by Angrist and Lang (2004) on
the effects of a school choice programme, Metco, that integrates mostly low income children from minority
groups into higher income school districts, in Boston suburbs, concludes that there are no negative peer
effects for higher achievers students, but does find an increase in Metco students‟ achievement.
Progressive voucher schemes and weighted student-funding formula
110. As an alternative to controlled choice schemes, countries establish incentives to make
disadvantaged and/or students with low performance more attractive to schools. Progressive voucher
schemes and weighted student-funding (“virtual vouchers”) are based on two main elements: funding
follows the students on a per-student basis to the school they attend and this amount depends of the
educational needs of the children. As a consequence, disadvantaged students bring more funding to their
school, compared to “regular” students.
111. The objective of this approach is to combine the promotion of an equal quality schooling across
schools, taking into account that some children are more challenging to education than others, to “foster a
level playing field among them” (Ladd and Fiske, 2009) and to ensure full parental choice. Since the
amount of the voucher is higher for children that have the biggest needs, schools will have greater
incentives to attract such students and to provide them with resources that address their needs (Levin and
Belfield, 2004), without contributing to further segregation.
112. This progressive voucher scheme was adopted in the Netherlands for all primary schools in 1985,
and schools with substantial numbers of weighted students received more funds. Once the level of funding
for each school is determined based on the need of individual students, there is no requirement that schools
will use directly these extra resources on these students. They can for example choose to reduce the
number of students per class. The “weight” of each student is determined by his parents‟ educational level.
Empirical research conducted by Ladd and Fiske (2009) shows that it has succeeded in distributing
EDU/WKP(2012)3
42
differentiated resources to schools according to their different needs: primary schools with a high
proportion of weighted students have on average about 58 % more teachers per pupils, and also more
support staff.
113. In recent years, policy makers from other countries have given thought and consideration to this
policy tool: several cities in the United States have also put them into place: Seattle, San Francisco and
Houston (Baker, 2009). Likewise, a weighted voucher was adopted by the Chilean education system in
2008, providing an extra per student subsidy for disadvantaged students: low SES and indigenous
children‟s voucher is 50 % higher than children that are not considered priority. Elacqua (2009) proposes
that this type of financing schemes provides the right type of incentives for schools to enrol more
disadvantaged children and therefore reduce segregation, and that it can mitigate the stratifying effects of
unrestrained universal voucher programme.
114. Progressive voucher schemes and other similar weighted funding formulas provide an effective
combination for school choice and equity: they rely on market mechanisms, and foster parental choice, and
they allow directing extra resources to children and schools that need them the most and this way
promoting equity. This design combines individual concerns of parents, that are allowed to choose their
children‟s school and social concerns, of allowing more equity, and an equal playing field for all children.
EDU/WKP(2012)3
43
5. CONCLUSION
115. School choice policies are aimed at achieving a number of diverse goals: from the point of view
of the individual, the most significant goal is the enhancement of parents‟ freedom and their right to decide
over the education of their children. From the point of view of society, school choice aims to improve
student achievement and provide equal access to high quality schooling. Therefore, school choice should
be designed to be at the same time freedom enhancing and justice enhancing.
116. Educational systems where choice is provided to some but not to others are inherently unfair,
especially when opportunities are determined by socio-economic background. Since the option of school
choice through residential mobility or through enrolment in private schools has always been available to
wealthy families, school choice programmes can allow to expand this right to every student. Theoretically
this can improve equity, as parental income and education becomes less important in determining access to
a high quality education.
117. Nevertheless, the theoretical benefits of introducing market mechanisms in education are not
easily identified empirically, and it seems that choice schemes do provide enhanced opportunities for some
advantaged parents and students who have a strong achievement orientation, but also harm others, often
more disadvantaged and low SES families.
118. School choice therefore requires some balance to ensure that all parents and families are able to
exercise it and benefit from it, especially disadvantaged parents, who are the ones who exercise it the least.
Indeed, evidence shows that parents are not always capable of acquiring the information necessary to make
well informed and optimal educational choices for their children. Also, parents do not necessarily base
their decisions on academic aspects but primarily on other factors, such as proximity, peer socio-economic
status, the school‟s facilities, etc. As a consequence, schools become more and more segregated, and
experts put into evidence “native flight” and “white flight” from certain schools. Disadvantaged parents
and students, whose expectations are less well formed, that do not have access to the right type of
information and whose knowledge on how to take advantage of complex mechanisms of school choice is
limited, are further isolated.
119. However, a careful design of school choice schemes can allow to combine parental freedom,
enhanced opportunities for disadvantaged children and equity. These need to be ensured through fair
selection criteria for schools, availability of information on school performance and on choice
arrangements for all families and support to schools which may be harmed through choice schemes. In
addition, specific choice schemes that have had positive results in combining choice with equity are
controlled choice plans and progressive voucher schemes.
EDU/WKP(2012)3
44
6. BIBLIOGRAPHY
Abdulkadiro, A., et al. (2006), Changing the Boston School Choice Mechanism, NBER Working Paper
No. 11965.
Alberger S., et al. (2009), “Closing the Student Achievement Gap: the Overlooked Strategy of
Socioeconomic Integration”, Paper presented to Prof. Jal Mahta, Harvard Graduate School of
Education.
Albert, C. and C. Garcia-Serrano (2010), “Cleaning the Slate? School Choice and Educational Outcomes in
Spain”, Higher Education, Vol. 60, N° 6.
Andersen, S. (2008), “Private Schools and the Parents that Choose Them: Empirical Evidence from the
Danish School Voucher System”, Scandinavian Political Studies, Vol. 31.
Angrist, J. and K. Lang (2004), “Does School Integration Generate Peer Effects? Evidence from Boston‟s
Metco Program”, Discussion Paper No. 976, IZA.
Arellano, M. and G. Zamarro (2007), “The Choice Between Public and Private Schools With or Without
Subsidies in Spain”, Preliminary and incomplete preprint.
Bast, J. and H. Walberg (2004), “Can parents choose the best schools for their children? “, Economics of
Education Review, Vol. 23, 4.
Belfield, C. and H. Levin (2001), The Effects of Competition on Educational Outcomes: a Review of the
U.S. Evidence, Occasional Paper 25, Teachers College, National Center for the Study of
Privatization in Education, Columbia University.
Belfield, C. and H. Levin (2002), “The Effects of Competition between Schools on Educational Outcomes:
a Review for the United States”, Review of Educational Research, Vol. 72, N°2.
Ben-Porath, S. (2009) “School Choice as a Bounded Ideal”, Journal of Philosophy of Education, Vol. 43.
Berends, M., M. Cannata and E. Goldring (2011), “School Choice Debates, Research and Context:
Towards Systematic Understanding and Better Educational Policy” in Berends M., M. Cannata and
E. Goldring (Eds), School Choice and School Improvement, Havard Education Press, Cambridge.
Bettinger, E. (2005), “The effects of Charter Schools on Charter Students and on Public Schools, Economic
of Education Review, Vol. 24 N° 2.
Bifulco, E. and H. Ladd (2006), “The Impact of Charter Schools on Student Achievement: Evidence from
North Carolina, Educational Finance and Policy, Vol. 1 N° 1.
Blank, R., R. Levine and L. Steel (1996), “After 15 Years: Magnet Schools in Urban Education” in Fuller
B. and R. Elmore (eds), Who Chooses? Who Looses? Culture, Institutions, and the Unequal Effects
of School Choice, Teachers College Press, New York.
Böhlmark, A. and M. Lindahl (2007), “The Impact of School Choice on Pupil Achievement, Segregation
and Costs: Swedish Evidence”, Discussion Paper No. 2786, IZA.
EDU/WKP(2012)3
45
Brandt, N. (2010), "Chile: Climbing on Giants' Shoulders: Better Schools for all Chilean Children", OECD
Economics Department Working Papers, No. 784.
Brighhouse, H. (2000), School Choice and Social Justice, Oxford University Press, Oxford.
Buchinsky, M., A. Mezza and D. McKee (2010), “The Dynamics of Educational Choices in the United
States”, Preliminary and incomplete draft, University of Los Angeles.
Bunar, N. (2010), “Choosing for Quality or Inequality: Current Perspectives on the Implementation of
School Choice Policy in Sweden”, Journal of Education Policy, Vol 25 N° 1.
Burgess, S., et al (2005), The Impact of School Choice on Sorting by Ability and Socio-economic Factors
in English Secondary Education, Working Paper, University of Bristol.
Butler, T. and A. Van Zanten (2007), “School Choice: a European Perspective”, Journal of Education
Policy, Vol. 27 N° 1.
Calero, J. (2007), An Assessment of Educational Equity in Spainin R. Teese, S. Lamb and M. Duru-
Bellat (eds.), International Studies in Educational Inequality, Theory and Practice Volume 2:
Inequality in Education Systems, Springer.
Cantillon, E. (2009), „Policy Brief - School Choice in Belgium‟, Report Prepared for the Conference on
School Choice Procedures in Brussels, January 2009.
Carnoy, M., et al (2007), Vouchers and Public School Performance, Economic Policy Institute,
Washington DC.
Crozie, G., et al. (2008), “White Middle-class Parents, Identities, Educational Choice and the Urban
Comprehensive School: Dilemmas, Ambivalence and Moral Ambiguity”. British Journal of
Sociology of Education, Vol. 29 N° 3.
Cullen, J. and B. Jacob (2007), “Is Gaining Access to Selective Elementary Schools Gaining Ground?
Evidence from Randomized Lotteries," in The Problems of Disadvantaged Youth: An Economic
Perspective, National Bureau of Economic Research, Washington DC.
Cullen, J., B. Jacob and S. Levitt (2000), "The Impact of School Choice on Student Outcomes: An
Analysis of the Chicago Public Schools," NBER Working Papers 7888, National Bureau of
Economic Research.
Cullen, J., B. Jacob and S. Levitt (2006), “The Effects of School Choice on Participants: Evidence from
Randomized Lotteries”, Econometrica, Vol. 74 N° 5.
Denessen, E., P. Sleegets and F. Smit (2001), “Reasons for School Choice in the Netherlands and in
Finland”, Occasional Paper No° 24, National Center for the Study of Privatization in Education,
Teachers College, Columbia University.
Diem, A. and S. Wolter (2011), “Who is Afraid of School Choice?”, CESifo Working Paper No. 3385.
Dijkgraaf, E., et al. (2008), “School Choice and Competition: Evidence from the Netherlands”, Tinbergen
Institute Discussion Paper.
EDU/WKP(2012)3
46
Dronkers, J. and S. Avram (2010), A cross-national analysis of the relations of school choice and
effectiveness differences between private-dependent and public schools, Educational Research and
Evaluation, Vol. 16 N° 2.
Dronkers, J. and P. Robert (2003), “The Effectiveness of Public and Private Schools from a Comparative
Perspective”, N° EUI Working Paper N° 2003-13, European University Institute.
Ehlers, L. (2010), “School Choice with Control”, Working paper, Department of Economics and CIREQ,
Université de Montréal.
Elacqua, G. (2009), “The impact of school choice and public policy on segregation: Evidence from Chile”,
Centro de Politicas Comparadas de Educación, Universidad Diego Portales, Santiago, Chile
Elmore, R. and B. Fuller (1996), “Empirical Research on Educational Choice: What Are The Implications
for Policy-Makers?” in Fuller B. and R. Elmore (eds) Who Chooses? Who Loses? Culture,
Institutions, and the Unequal Effects of School Choice, Teachers College Press, New York.
Epple, D. and R. Romano (2003), “Neighborhood Schools, Choice, and the Distribution of Educational
Benefits”, in Hoxby C., The Economics of School Choice, the University of Chicago Press, Chicago.
Fazekas, M. (in press), School funding formulas”, OECD Working Paper, OECD, Paris.
Feinberg, W. and C. Lubienski (2008), School Choice Policies and Outcomes: Empirical and
Philosophical Perspectives, State University of New York Press, New York.
Figlio, D. and M. Page (2003), "Can School Choice and School Accountability Successfully Coexist?" in
Hoxby C., The Economics of School Choice, the University of Chicago Press, Chicago.
Fox, R. and N. Buchanan (2008), School Choice in the Republic of Ireland: An Unqualified Commitment
to Parental Choice”, University of Hawaii‟s Charter School Resource Center.
Friedman, M. (1955), “The Role of Government in Education”, Economics and the Public Interest, Rutgers
University Press, New Brunswick, NJ.
Gauri, V. (1999), School Choice in Chile: Two Decades of Educational Reform, University of Pittsburgh
Press, Pittsburgh.
Glenn, C. (1999), “Why are Progressives so Hostile to School Choice Policies?”, Current Issues in
Comparative Education, Teachers College, Columbia University, Vol.1 N° 2.
Godwin, K. and F. Kemerer (2002), School Choice Tradeoffs: Liberty, Equity and Diversity, University of
Austin Press, Austin.
Gorard, S., J. Fitz and C. Taylor (2001), “School Choice Impacts: What Do We Know?”, Educational
Researcher, Vol 30.
Haeringer, G. and F. Klijn (2005), Constrained School Choice, Working Paper n°294, Barcelona
Economics Working Paper Series.
Hanushek, E., and S. Rivkin (2005), "Does Public School Competition Affect Teacher Quality?" in Hoxby
C., The Economics of School Choice, the University of Chicago Press, Chicago.
EDU/WKP(2012)3
47
Hanushek, E. et al (2003) Does Peer Ability Affect Student Achievement?, Journal of Applied
Econometrics.
Hastings, J. and J. Weinstein (2008), “Information, School Choice, and Academic Achievement: Evidence
from Two Experiments”, NBER Working Paper No. 13623, National Bureau of Economic Research.
Hastings, J., T. Kane and D. Staiger (2005), Parental Preferences and School Competition: Evidence
from a Public School Choice Program, NBER Working Paper n°11805, National Bureau of
Economic Research.
Hastings, J., T. Kane and D. Staiger (2006), Preferences and Heterogeneous Treatment Effects in a Public
School Choice Lottery, NBER Working Paper n°12145, National Bureau of Economic Research.
Henig, J. (1996), “The Local Dynamics of Choice: Ethnic Preferences and Institutional Responses”, in
Fuller B. and R. Elmore (eds) Who Chooses? Who Loses? Culture, Institutions, and the Unequal
Effects of School Choice, Teachers College Press, New York.
Holmes, G., J. DeSimone and N. Rupp (2003), “Does School Choice Increase School Quality?”, Working
Paper 9683, NBER Working Paper Series, National Bureau of Economic Research.
Howell, W. and P. Peterson (2002), The Education Gap: Vouchers and Urban Schools, Brookings
Institution Press, Washington, DC.
Hoxby, C. (2003), ”School Choice and School Productivity: Could School Choice Be a Tide that Lifts All
Boats?”, in Hoxby C., The Economics of School Choice, the University of Chicago Press, Chicago.
Hoxby, C. (2006), “School Choice: The Three Essential Elements and Several Policy Options”, Keynote
Speech Delivered on 30 June 2005 to the New Zealand Association of Economists, Christchurch,
New Zealand, Education Forum.
Hsieh, C. and M. Urquiola (2006), "The Effects of Generalized School Choice on Achievement and
Stratification: Evidence from Chile's Voucher Program," Journal of Public Economics, Vol. 90.
Jacott, L. and A. Maldonado (2006), “The Centros Concertados in Spain, Parental Demand and Implication
for Equity”, European Journal of Education, Vol. 41.
Kahlenberg, R. (2006), Helping Children Move From Bad Schools to Good Ones, Education Week, the
Century Foundation.
Kelly, A. (2009), “Juxtaposing Some Contradictory Findings from Research on School Choice”, Revista
Internacional de Investigacion en Educación, Vol. 2 N° 3.
Ladd, H. (2003), “Comment on Caroline M. Hoxby: School Choice and School Competition: Evidence
from the United States”, Swedish Economic Policy Review n°10.
Ladd, H. (2008), “Reflections on Equity, Adequacy and Weighted Student Funding”, Education Finance
and Policy, Vol. 3 N° 4.
Ladd, H. and E. Fiske (2001), “The Uneven Playing Field of School Choice: Evidence from New
Zealand”, Journal of Policy Analysis and Management, Vol. 20.
EDU/WKP(2012)3
48
Ladd, H., E. Fiske and N. Ruijs (2011), “Does Parental Choice Foster Segregated Schools? Insights from
The Netherlands” in Berends M., M. Cannata and E. Goldring (Eds), School Choice and School
Improvement, Havard Education Press, Cambridge.
Ladd, H. and Fiske E. (2003), “Does Competition Improve Teaching and Learning? Evidence from New
Zealand”, Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis, Vol. 25 N°1.
Ladd, H. and E. Fiske (2009), “The Dutch Experience with Weighted Student Funding: Some Lessons for
the U.S.”, Working Paper N° 3, Working Papers Series, Duke University.
Larocque, N. (2005), “School Zoning: Locking Kids Out or Letting Them In?”, Paper prepared for the
Education Forum, Wellington, New Zealand.
Lauen, D. L. (2007), Contextual Explanations of School Choice, Sociology of Education, Vol. 80.
Lee, V., R. Croninger and J. Smith (1996), “Equity and Choice in Detroit”, in Fuller B. and R. Elmore
(eds) Who Chooses? Who Loses? Culture, Institutions, and the Unequal Effects of School Choice,
Teachers College Press, New York.
Levin, H. (2009), “Economic Perspectives on School Choice” in Berends M., M. Springer, D. Ballou and
H. Walberg (eds.), Handbook of Research on School Choice, Lawrence Erlbaum Associations,
Mahwah, NJ.
Levin, H. and C. Belfield (2004), “Vouchers and Public Policy: When Ideology Trumps Evidence”,
National Center for the Study of Privatization in Education, Teachers College, Columbia University.
Lubienski, C. and S. Lubienski (2006), “Charter, Private and Public Schools and Academic Achievement:
New Evidence from NAEP Mathematic Data”, National Center for the Study of Privatization in
Education, University of Illinois.
Martinez, V., K. Godwin and F. Kemerer, “Public School Choice in San Antonio: Who Chooses and With
What Effects?”, in Fuller B. and R. Elmore (eds.) Who Chooses? Who Loses? Culture, Institutions,
and the Unequal Effects of School Choice, Teachers College Press, New York.
Mayer, D., et al. (2002), “School choice in New York City after three years: an Evaluation of the School
Choice Scholarships Program”, American Economic Revie