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