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Posted on July 1st, 2014

Back to School – Competition in Public Schools

Advocates for the reformation of our national educational policies often call for more competition in our schools because of the belief that market forces will lead to greater efficiency. However, just how should this competition be defined? How do certain geographic and demographic variables affect the establishment of a national policy? Researchers from Saginaw Valley State, Pittsburg State and Mississippi State set out to apply GIS tools to the development of a school competition index in the state of Mississippi to see if these questions could be resolved. In sum, the authors found that higher levels of competition from private schools significantly increased public school productivity. Let’s see how they got there.

Public and private schools in Mississippi, and private schools in neighboring states.
School Competition Index for Starkville High School in Starkville, MS which is also home to Mississippi State University.

In their preliminary research and literature review, the authors gave consideration to the two overriding philosophies in educational reform: high-stakes tests and market-type reforms. The former’s goal is to increase measured achievement levels of students; while the latter allows students to attend public schools in their districts, or to attend private schools of their choice with discount vouchers to absorb some of the cost. As there have been mixed findings on the benefits of inner-school competition and performance, the results are too conflicting to draw any generalizations, hence the need for this study.

To examine the relationship between competition and technical efficiency, the study included a two-pronged approach, the first of which explores school outputs based on a number of variables. The estimates of technical efficiency were then used as dependent variables in a regression analysis with school performance. It was found that competition from private schools extended into neighboring states as well, including Alabama, Arkansas, Tennessee and Louisiana. The majority of data was obtained from the Mississippi Department of Education, and most variables came from the Mississippi Report Card, an annual accounting of school statistics.

There were numerous interesting findings in this study based on the variables provided by the state of Mississippi. The Primary School model indicated a positive correlation between the percentage of students receiving free lunches and inefficiency. In the High School sample, female principals were commonly associated with inefficiency as well as with public schools. Student’s race was not found to be a significant factor in any model, though socioeconomic status was, as indicated by the free lunch result. Another interesting finding that I was shocked to see was that human capital, in the form of teaching experience and educational attainment, had insignificant impact on the Primary School model; however in the High School model, these factors were very significant. This led the authors to try and conclude why experience or academic pedigree is not impactful at younger ages. Is it because younger students don’t benefit from the structure often acquired through graduate education or the development of classroom practice from seasoned teachers? This study highlighted key elements in one state’s performance, but also brought up many more questions that may be valuable in shaping our nation’s educational system, and thus the future of our country.

Justin Harmon
Staff Writer

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