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School Choice and Student Performance: Are Private Schools Really Better?

  • D. N. Figlio
  • J. A. Stone

Are private schools really better than public schools, or is it simply that better students attend private schools? Although a number of recent studies find that students perform better in private schools (more specifically, Catholic schools), others do not. Typically, however, the instruments used to adjust for nonrandom selection are weak. This study employs uniquely detailed local instruments and jointly models selection into religious and nonreligious private high schools, relative to public high schools—improving instrument power in predicting private sector attendance to roughly three times that of prior studies. Failing to correct adequately for selection leads to a systematic upward bias in the estimated treatment effect for religious schools, but a downward bias for nonreligious private schools. With adequate correction, religious schools are modestly inferior in mathematics and science, while nonreligious schools are substantially superior. However, minority students, particularly in urban areas, benefit from religious schools. Other factors that may make both religious and nonreligious private schools attractive include possibly better retention rates, increased security and discipline, and greater opportunities for a variety of specialized school-day and extracurricular activities.

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Paper provided by University of Wisconsin Institute for Research on Poverty in its series Institute for Research on Poverty Discussion Papers with number 1141-97.

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Handle: RePEc:wop:wispod:1141-97
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  1. Murnane, Richard J & Newstead, Stuart & Olsen, Randall J, 1985. "Comparing Public and Private Schools: The Puzzling Role of Selectivity Bias," Journal of Business & Economic Statistics, American Statistical Association, vol. 3(1), pages 23-35, January.
  2. Thomas A. Downes & Shane M. Greenstein, 1996. "Understanding the Supply Decisions of Nonprofits: Modelling the Location of Private Schools," RAND Journal of Economics, The RAND Corporation, vol. 27(2), pages 365-390, Summer.
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  4. Lankford, Hamilton & Wyckoff, James, 1992. "Primary and secondary school choice among public and religious alternatives," Economics of Education Review, Elsevier, vol. 11(4), pages 317-337, December.
  5. Goldhaber, Dan D., 1996. "Public and private high schools: Is school choice an answer to the productivity problem?," Economics of Education Review, Elsevier, vol. 15(2), pages 93-109, April.
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  7. Peltzman, Sam, 1996. "Political Economy of Public Education: Non-College-Bound Students," Journal of Law and Economics, University of Chicago Press, vol. 39(1), pages 73-120, April.
  8. William Sander, 1996. "Catholic Grade Schools and Academic Achievement," Journal of Human Resources, University of Wisconsin Press, vol. 31(3), pages 540-548.
  9. Richard J. Murnane & John B. Willett & Frank Levy, 1995. "The Growing Importance of Cognitive Skills in Wage Determination," NBER Working Papers 5076, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
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  13. Caroline Minter Hoxby, 1994. "Does Competition Among Public Schools Benefit Students and Taxpayers?," NBER Working Papers 4979, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  14. Lankford R. H. & Lee E. S. & Wyckoff J. H., 1995. "An Analysis of Elementary and Secondary School Choice," Journal of Urban Economics, Elsevier, vol. 38(2), pages 236-251, September.
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  17. Sander, William & Krautmann, Anthony C, 1995. "Catholic Schools, Dropout Rates and Educational Attainment," Economic Inquiry, Western Economic Association International, vol. 33(2), pages 217-33, April.
  18. Bishop, John Hillman, 1989. "Is the Test Score Decline Responsible for the Productivity Growth Decline?," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 79(1), pages 178-97, March.
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