Selective choice of research in Policy Exchange report. What was missing?

Janet Downs's picture
The Policy Exchange report about free schools cites various studies showing the ‘effects of increasing school freedoms and competition on education systems’. Some, the authors say, ‘have shown positive benefits’ while just two showed ‘no effect or negative effect’.

The reports showing positive effects included analysis by Dobbie, W and Fryer, R (2009) of US charter schools. But Fryer’s later 2012 project paper said “as a whole, charter schools have yielded inconsistent results.” The authors missed the later report.

Another cited work was Angrist et al (2010) which found positive results in one KIPP charter school. It would be unwise to generalise from the results of one school. In any case, charter schools networks and KIPP schools did poorly in the recent standardised tests in New York.

One major report into the affect of market forces in education which was missing from the Policy Exchange report was the extensive review of existing evidence by academics on behalf of the OECD*. The researchers found the evidence that market forces improve education achievement and efficiency was “fragmented and inconclusive”.

A review of evidence about market intervention in education in Sweden and Chile by the Academies Commission (2013) was also absent. The Commission had cited FT journalist Chris Cook: the improved educational performance attributed to the Swedish free school programme was extremely modest and the slight positive effects were ‘not very impressive given the scale of the policy intervention’.

The Commission found Chile’s voucher system resulted in over 60% of pupils attending privately-run schools which can charge extra fees above the value of the voucher. But a 2000 study found no difference in performance between subsidized private schools and state-funded municipal schools. Chilean students have been rioting since 2011 for improvements in Chile’s education system. A proposed Bill would stop subsidies for-profit schools and scrap selective entrance rules, but students say it’s taking too long to get through Parliament.

Also in 2013, the CREDO report into US charters found US Charter schools were just beginning to show “marginal improvements” after twenty years of controversy, investments and schools opening and closing.

The Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), also missing from the Policy Exchange report, found ‘the relationship between school choice and student performance is weak’ and increasing competition between schools increased socio-economic segregation. OECD wrote:

‘School competition can involve costs and benefits that may not be equally distributed across students. Some of the intended benefits of competition – greater innovation in education and a better match between students’ needs and interests and what schools offer – are not necessarily related to student achievement, and must be weighed against the possible cost in equity and social inclusion.’

It would appear, then, the evidence cited in the Policy Exchange report is incomplete and is not as positive as it claimed.

*See faq above Do market forces in education increase achievement and efficiency? for details.
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