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What is the reality of school competition?

Cathy Wylie

In this paper, Cathy Wylie examines the history and impact of school choice policies in New Zealand.

Although 91% of primary students and 84% of secondary students attend their first choice school, roughly 30% of students do not attend schools closest to their homes, suggesting there is some competition for students between schools. Low-income schools are less likely to produce qualified students, and competition does not appear to have induced these schools to improve.

This paper discusses why competition has not lead to superior student outcomes. Wylie argues that most schools in New Zealand do not face structural competition, defined as five or more competing schools in close proximity, and most school leaders are not threatened by consistent competition. Out of 157 schools whose principals were surveyed in 1999 and 2003, only 17% reported facing competition in both years.

Wylie concludes that it is important to distinguish between offering choice and encouraging competition.

The full paper, presented at the AERA conference, San Francisco, 7-11 April 2006, is now up on the Centre for Study of Privatisation website. 

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Conference paper
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