In Australia, the selective schools debate has so far been pretty much fact-free. By definition, selective schools get more academically talented kids, so the fact that they also do well in final exams doesn’t tell us whether these schools are adding value – relative to other schools. But if the findings of a new UK study apply in Oz, the answer should perhaps be that selective schools add a bit of value, but not much.
Selective Schools and Academic Achievement
In this paper I consider the impact of attending a selective high school in the UK. Students are assigned to these schools on the basis of a test taken in primary school and, using data on these assignment test scores for a particular district, I exploit this rule to estimate the causal effects of selective schools on test scores, high school course taking and university enrollment. Despite the huge peer advantage enjoyed by selective school students, I show that four years of selective school attendance generates at best small effects on test scores. Selective schools do however have positive effects on course-taking and university enrollment, evidence suggesting they may have important longer run impacts.
Incidentally, I tried about five years ago to get data from New South Wales and Victoria to perform a similar exercise (using regression discontinuity on the selective schools entrance exams). Both states refused to provide it.