Making Good Choices: Equitable Public Schools Do Better

Researchers at Stanford University have published a new study comparing public school vs. school choice privatization systems.  Public schools that focus on equity win hands down.

The data suggest that the education sector is better served by a public investment approach that serves each and every child than by a market-based competition approach that creates winners…..and losers.

It is worth taking a minute to see how and why.

By comparing and contrasting three pairs of countries, the authors show the impact of national policy on student achievement.  The contrast is exemplified by Finland’s focus on equity and teacher professionalization while the U.S. mandated testing and sanctions or reconstitution for schools that did not make adequate yearly progress.

The push for privatization in the U.S. comes from many sources:

  • Support for public funding…through vouchers and charter schools
  • Test based accountability for evaluating schools against each other
  • Creation of an unregulated market place for teachers…which allows salaries to decline

In this research, Frank Adamson compares PISA scores for three sets of relatively similar countries that have contrasting educational systems.  The first country in each set focuses on the equity approach to public education and the second country has to varying degrees, privatized their approach to educational reform.

  • Finland and Sweden:  Sweden switched to a market-driven choice system in the 1990s and its scores have fallen dramatically.
  • Canada and the U.S.  Canada turned to vouchers in the 90s, and the system failed badly.  The government turned back to public education in the early 2000s, and its system out performs the U.S.
  • Cuba and Chile.  Chile instituted vouchers in the 1980s that have resulted in declining PISA scores and massive public demonstrations.  They are shifting back toward public education. Cuba invests in its public schools and ranks the highest in Latin America on student achievement.

In each case, goals of equity, universal access, and high quality teaching achieved through high levels of teacher preparation and a whole child curriculum have significantly better results than high stakes accountability systems that incentivize teaching to the test.  The author makes the following recommendations based on the success of public sector investment in education:

  • Fund schools according to their real needs to cope with family inequalities.
  • Offer a whole child curriculum and wrap around services.
  • Support community engagement…involve parents, teachers and students in decisions.
  • Provide professional capacity that do not reinforce differences between teacher labor force and student body.
  • Utilize classroom assessments with real time feedback to students and teachers.



Posted in Achievement, Charter Schools, Civil Rights, Funding, Reform, Resegregation, Teachers, Testing, Vouchers.

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