While many politicians assume parents don’t know enough to make smart choices about where and how to educate their kids, two new international studies find that the level of private school enrollment in a country is directly related to significantly higher levels of student achievement and political freedom.

A companion report examined the effects on economic and political freedom of higher private school enrollments, finding positive outcomes there also.

“Our studies both find significant evidence to suggest that increases in the private share of schooling within a country over time improve PISA scores, political rights, and economic freedom,” study authors Corey DeAngelis and Danish Shakeel write.

Researchers compared Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) scores across 62 countries from 2000 to 2012. PISA is a test 15-year-old students take worldwide to test their knowledge in mathematics, reading, and science.

“We find evidence to suggest that increased private schooling leads to improved PISA scores around the world,” says the test scores study from the University of Arkansas. “Specifically, our preferred model finds that a ten percentage point increase in the private share of schooling enrollment is associated with a 28 percent standard deviation increase in math, a 24 percent standard deviation increase in reading, and an 18 percent standard deviation increase in science.”

Standard deviations can get complicated, but this translates into much more learning for kids over their schooling, which this study shows creates cognitive gains that benefit them in their personal and professional lives. For example, the study authors estimate an average lifetime earnings increase of 13 percent, or $150,000 on average, for a 10 percent increase in private school enrollment in a given country.

“[F]or research in education, these effect sizes are exceptionally large,” the report says.


Other studies have found that it’s not just test scores that make parents happy about private schools: parents have dramatically greater satisfaction with their kids’ learning environment, the match between family values and religion, and their child’s happiness when their children are enrolled in private schools.

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