School Choice, Sorry I Underrated You

Bryan Caplan:

Researching and writing The Case Against Education did much to dull my enthusiasm for private schooling. Part of the reason was pure theory: If most education is socially wasteful signaling, private spending doesn’t offset government inefficiency. It amplifies it. 

Yet most of the reason was empirical. When I looked at curricula, what private school taught seemed very similar to what public schools taught. Furthermore, when researchers measured student learning – with proper corrections for pre-existing knowledge – most found weak evidence that private schooling was better.

None of this turned me against school choice. But since two big arguments in favor of this reform – different curricula and better learning – were weak, I almost stopped talking about it. 

Until COVID came along and changed my mind. Here’s how.

Initially, all schools, public and private, stopped in-person education. Yet by the Fall of 2020, I started to notice a huge public-private disparity. All of the public schools in my area stayed closed… while all of the private schools I knew about reopened. 

While this was only my superficial impression, I saw it confirmed over and over. Recently, I decided to hunt down the actual numbers. Straight from the National Center for Education Statistics: