Greater School Choice Boosts Student Scores: Lessons from BC - C.D. Howe Institute

TORONTO, Feb. 12, 2015 /CNW/ - Greater school choice has improved the reading and numeracy scores of grade 4 students in some areas of British Columbia, according to a new C.D. Howe Institute report. In "Expanding School Choice through Open Enrolment: Lessons from British Columbia," authors Jane Friesen, Benjamin Cerf Harris and Simon Woodcock provide fresh insights to policymakers in other provinces considering introducing greater school choice into their public education systems.

Since 2002, British Columbia has followed an "open enrolment" policy that makes it easier for parents to opt out of their neighbourhood school. The authors found strong statistical evidence that this policy contributed to higher test scores, with the magnitude of this impact depending on the geographic concentration of public schools. In the Lower Mainland, 10 to 15 percent of neighbourhoods are dense enough to have generated fairly substantial improvements in academic achievement. In the remaining neighbourhoods, where school density is lower, the impact of open enrolment on test scores was quite small.

"To put these effects in some context, the gains in these high density neighbourhoods were equivalent to reducing class size by between two and three students," remarked Friesen. "This is interesting, as introducing school choice is likely to be a very cost effective strategy for improving student achievement as measured by test scores."

Additionally, the authors found that open enrolment did little to either segregate or integrate Lower Mainland students according to their cultural and ethnic backgrounds. There is also little evidence that popular schools engaged in cream-skimming high-achieving students.

Friesen concludes, "It appears that most of the estimated achievement gains came about as a result of increased competition among public schools. Policymakers ought to explore introducing greater competition among public schools in order to strengthen public education systems." 

The C. D. Howe Institute is an independent not-for-profit research institute whose mission is to raise living standards by fostering economically sound public policies. It is Canada's trusted source of essential policy intelligence, distinguished by research that is nonpartisan, evidence-based and subject to definitive expert review. It is considered by many to be Canada's most influential think tank.

For the report go to:

SOURCE C.D. Howe Institute

For further information: Jane Friesen, Professor, Department of Economics, Simon Fraser University; Benjamin Cerf Harris, Economist, U.S. Census Bureau, Center for Administrative Records Research and Applications; Simon Woodcock, Associate Professor, Department of Economics, Simon Fraser University. Phone: 416-865-1904 Ext. 9997; E-Mail:


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