Education reformers often tout that school choice will create more competition, leading to better performance in both traditional and non-traditional schools. In spite of this, researchers have been unable to consistently show a correlation between competition and school performance, creating ammunition for those who oppose school choice. A part of the problem is how the topic is researched. In their report, Susanna Loeb and Matthew Kasman explain that researchers focus on specific aspects of competition (i.e. school density in an area, the transfer rates of students) without factoring the perceptions of the school leaders who are responsible for changing curriculum and instruction. Loeb and Kasman analyzed data and surveys from Milwaukee Public Schools to determine what affect a principal’s perception of competition and how those school leaders respond.
The results are surprising- the researchers reported that the number of schools in an area had little correlation with the perception of competition. Conversely, the principals did report a greater sense of competition when their student transfer rates were higher and when they taught low and high achieving students. One potential reason for this is that schools specifically designed to serve these students such as charters succeeded in drawing students from other schools. Unfortunately, the researchers also found that principals were more likely to respond to competition by adjusting their outreach policies rather than making adjustments to their curriculum and instruction.
In order to develop curriculum and instruction changes on the school level, school choice advocates must shift some of their attention to improving already established schools so they attract more of their targeted students. Advocates must also create more avenues to help parents use clear and accessible data to determine what school is right for their child instead of allowing them to be convinced by advertisement efforts.
Susanna Loeb and Matthew Kasman, “Principals’ Perceptions of Competition for Students in Milwaukee School” (Association of Education Finance and Policy Journal, vol. 8, no. 1 2013)