The effect of school choice on pupil test scores: Evidence from Dutch reform data

Monique De Haan 1, Edwin Leuven2, Hessel Oosterbeek1
1Amsterdam School of Economics, University of Amsterdam, The Netherlands, 2ENSAE-CREST, France

There has been a growing interest in the effect of school choice on pupil's schooling outcomes. Most of the studies investigating school choice use data from countries where there is very little school choice, or where the degree of choice has increased from no choice to some choice. In contrast, the Netherlands has a unique system of free school choice and this system has been in place since 1917. In addition, there is the freedom to found schools and to organize the teaching in schools. All schools, both publicly and privately run, are funded by the government as long as the number of pupils is above the minimum school size rule. In 1994 these minimum school size rules were changed, leading to a large decrease in the number schools, in particular through mergers. Given a system of free school choice, this reduction in the number of schools implies a reduction in choice. By exploiting the fact that the changes in the minimum school size rules differed between municipalities, we examine the effect on the literacy and numeracy performance of pupils in primary education. We find a small positive impact of a substantial reduction in the number of schools on pupil achievement. This (unexpected) finding can be explained by the fact that in our setting, but also in many other settings, the change in school choice came jointly with variation in school size.

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