NATIONAL BUREAU OF ECONOMIC RESEARCH
NATIONAL BUREAU OF ECONOMIC RESEARCH

Free to Choose: Can School Choice Reduce Student Achievement?

Atila Abdulkadiroglu, Parag A. Pathak, Christopher R. Walters

NBER Working Paper No. 21839
Issued in December 2015, Revised in December 2016
NBER Program(s):ED, LS, PE

A central argument for school choice is that families value the freedom to exercise choice and can make wise decisions. This principle may underlie why lottery-based school evaluations, which exploit over-subscription due to excess demand, have almost always reported positive or zero achievement effects. This paper reports on a striking empirical counterexample to these results. We evaluate the Louisiana Scholarship Program (LSP), a school voucher plan providing public funds for disadvantaged students to attend private schools of their choice. We exploit random assignment of LSP vouchers at oversubscribed private schools to estimate the program’s effects on test scores. LSP participation substantially reduces academic achievement: attendance at an LSP-eligible private school lowers math scores by 0.4 standard deviations and increases the likelihood of a failing math score by 50 percent. Voucher effects for reading, science and social studies are also negative and large. Participating private schools charge below-average tuition, and the program’s negative math effects are concentrated among participating schools with lower tuition. Negative voucher effects may be due in part to selection of low-quality private schools into the program.

You may purchase this paper on-line in .pdf format from SSRN.com ($5) for electronic delivery.

Access to NBER Papers

You are eligible for a free download if you are a subscriber, a corporate associate of the NBER, a journalist, an employee of the U.S. federal government with a ".GOV" domain name, or a resident of nearly any developing country or transition economy.

If you usually get free papers at work/university but do not at home, you can either connect to your work VPN or proxy (if any) or elect to have a link to the paper emailed to your work email address below. The email address must be connected to a subscribing college, university, or other subscribing institution. Gmail and other free email addresses will not have access.

E-mail:

Machine-readable bibliographic record - MARC, RIS, BibTeX

Document Object Identifier (DOI): 10.3386/w21839

Users who downloaded this paper also downloaded* these:
Epple, Romano, and Urquiola w21523 School Vouchers: A Survey of the Economics Literature
Peterson, Howell, Wolf, and Campbell School Vouchers. Results from Randomized Experiments
Cesarini, Lindqvist, Notowidigdo, and Östling w21762 The Effect of Wealth on Individual and Household Labor Supply: Evidence from Swedish Lotteries
Macartney, McMillan, and Petronijevic w21835 Incentive Design in Education: An Empirical Analysis
Epple, Romano, and Zimmer w21256 Charter Schools: A Survey of Research on Their Characteristics and Effectiveness
 
Publications
Activities
Meetings
NBER Videos
Themes
Data
People
About

National Bureau of Economic Research, 1050 Massachusetts Ave., Cambridge, MA 02138; 617-868-3900; email: info@nber.org

Contact Us