IZA DP No. 2214: Choice, Competition and Pupil Achievement
published in: Journal of the European Economic Association, 2008, 6 (4), 912-947
Choice and competition in education have found growing support from both policy makers and academics in the recent past. Yet, evidence on the actual benefits of market-oriented reforms is at best mixed. Moreover, while the economic rationale for choice and competition is clear, in existing work there is rarely an attempt to distinguish between the two concepts. In this paper, we study whether pupils in Primary schools in England with a wider range of school choices achieve better academic outcomes than those whose choice is more limited; and whether Primary schools facing more competition perform better than those in a more monopolistic situation. In simple least squares regression models, we find little evidence of a link between choice and achievement, but uncover a small positive association between competition and school performance. Yet, this could be related to endogenous school location or pupil sorting. In fact, an instrumental variable strategy based on discontinuities generated by admissions district boundaries suggests that the performance gains from greater school competition are limited. Only when we restrict our attention to Faith autonomous schools, which have more freedom in managing their admission practices and governance, do we find evidence of a positive causal link between competition and pupil achievement.