Trump Jr.’s claims about school choice are hogwash

trumpjrDonald Trump Jr. had this to say about education in his speech at the RNC in Cleveland last night:

“You know why other countries do better on K through 12? They let parents choose where to send their own children to school. That’s called competition. It’s called the free market. And it’s what the other party fears.”

That’s hogwash. The man apparently knows very little about education in the countries that we can assume that he’s talking about. Let’s look at a few of the top PISA performers.

South Korea: Private expenditure on education in South Korea is among the highest in the world. So, yes, there is a lot of private education providing both private formal schooling and extracurricular tuition. However, it’s not really a school choice thing as Trump suggests. Students are under great pressure to perform, especially on tests. Most private education is geared toward increasing students’ test performance. Education in South Korea is high stakes and high pressure and takes a serious toll on students health and wellbeing. In addition, there is a wide, and widening, gap between the haves and have-nots. For South Korea, the current state of education is seen as a problem that has proven difficult to address.

Finland: School choice is simply not a thing in Finland. There are very few private schools. The few private schools that exist are primarily religious or worldview based schools. The choice to send students to those schools is rarely based on considerations regarding quality.

Canada: Canada is like the US. It’s hard to talk about it as a single education system since educational affairs are decentralized to the provinces. So, we have very different models across Canada. The one province that has really focused on school choice to any significant degree is Alberta. According to PISA data, Alberta routinely performs at around the Canada average. But, more interestingly, since PISA started in 2002, Alberta’s scores have been dropping. I’m not sure when Alberta starting implementing school choice policies, but the drop is consistent with what is often seen with school choice policies. There is an initial, albeit relatively brief, increase in performance, followed by a drop. This has been the case in various parts of the US and in Sweden, for example.

So, the evidence is not supporting what Trump claims. In the future, he would do better to actually research this stuff before he talks about it.

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