New findings by Harvard Graduate School of Education Assistant Professor Martin West and University of Munich Professor Ludger Woessmann show that competition from private schools improves achievement for both public and private school students, and decreases overall spending on education.

The study, which was featured in the August 2010 issue of the Economic Journal, systemically measured the causal impact of private school competition across countries. The researchers found that students in countries with higher proportions of children enrolled in private schools score higher on internationally comparable exams.

“Our results suggest that students in public schools profit nearly as much from increased private school competition as do a nation’s students as a whole,” West and Woessman note. “Competition from private schools improves student achievement, and appears to do so for public school as well as private school students. And it produces these benefits while decreasing the total resources devoted to education, as measured by cumulative educational spending per pupil.”

In order to determine whether competitive pressures from private schools increase the productivity of the school system as a whole, West and Woessmann analyzed Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) data on the mathematical, scientific, and reading literacy of nearly 220,000 students in 29 Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) countries. They also used PISA data on students’ background and the characteristics of each student’s school, including resource levels and whether the school is public or private.

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