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The inequalities in school choice in


Spain in accordance to PISA data
a

JosepOriol Escardbul & Anna Villarroya

Political Economy and Public Finance, Faculty of Economics ,


University of Barcelona , Barcelona, Spain
Published online: 17 Nov 2009.

To cite this article: JosepOriol Escardbul & Anna Villarroya (2009) The inequalities in school
choice in Spain in accordance to PISA data, Journal of Education Policy, 24:6, 673-696, DOI:
10.1080/02680930903131259
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Journal of Education Policy


Vol. 24, No. 6, November 2009, 673696

The inequalities in school choice in Spain in accordance to PISA


data
Josep-Oriol Escardbul* and Anna Villarroya
Political Economy and Public Finance, Faculty of Economics, University of Barcelona,
Barcelona, Spain
(Received 27 October 2008; final version received 19 May 2009)
Taylor and Francis
TEDP_A_413298.sgm

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Journal
10.1080/02680930903131259
0268-0939
Original
Taylor
602009
24
Dr.
oescardibul@ub.edu
000002009
Josep-OriolEscardbul
&
ofArticle
Francis
Education
(print)/1464-5106
Policy (online)

In Spain as in other European countries, policies on school choice have been


implemented in tandem with the channelling of public resources into private
education. Given the application of public money to private schooling, the primary
objective of this paper is to analyse the extent to which Spanish families enjoy
equality in their ability to exercise school choice. To do so, the analysis focuses
on the factors that affect school choice in Spain using data from the 2003 and 2006
PISA evaluations. Specifically, the influence of personal, family, geographic,
motivational and educational policy factors are all considered in the context of
deciding whether to attend a public or private school. The results reveal a broad
similarity across the factors driving the selection of private schools which either
receive some public funding (known as concerted) or independent, showing a
greater proportion of families from better socioeconomic, educational and cultural
backgrounds in these types of schools. In addition, the geographic distribution of
schools has an effect on school selection. Given that concerted schools form part
of the public educational offering (because of the state funding they receive), the
state has the ability to take a wide range of actions to promote greater equality of
choice in the case of public and concerted schools. In this respect, a series of
measures are set out regarding student selection, the distribution of information
and the geographic distribution of schools.
Keywords: school choice; publicprivate decision; Spain; multinomial logit

Introduction
Many European countries, including Spain, enacted policies throughout the 1980s
which were aimed at expanding the choices available to families. In many cases, these
policies have been pursued in tandem with public moneys being channelled into the
private education sector. In Spain, a system of concerted arrangements has been established in the private education sector by which the state subsidises specific private
schools in order to expand school choice beyond the public schools on offer. Against
this backdrop, the main objective of this study is to analyse the equality of access to
schools in Spain. To examine this issue, the analysis focuses on the various factors
linked to educational supply and demand that affect the decisions of Spanish families
when choosing from among public, independent private and concerted private
schools.
*Corresponding author. Email: oescardibul@ub.edu
ISSN 0268-0939 print/ISSN 1464-5106 online
2009 Taylor & Francis
DOI: 10.1080/02680930903131259
http://www.informaworld.com

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J.-O. Escardbul and A. Villarroya

The study is significant for several reasons. Firstly, it draws on a very recent
database which has not yet been used to analyse the phenomenon in question. (The
database comes from the 2006 Program for International Student Assessment.)
Secondly, the study incorporates specific individual and household variables not
considered in other studies (e.g. educational history and educational and job-related
expectations of students) and, at the same time, it includes variables related to motivational factors affecting school choice. Thirdly, it includes factors related to school
demand as well as to supply, especially with regard to educational policy. Fourthly,
the study not only takes into account the dichotomy between public and private
schools, but also distinguishes between partially publicly funded (concerted) private
schools and independent private schools. Building on this distinction, the analysis
applies multinomial regression techniques to the various factors affecting school
choice in Spain.
In the section following the introduction, the paper sets forth the principal
measures which the Spanish government has adopted in recent decades to ensure freedom of school choice among the users of the compulsory educational system. Then, it
offers the main results from existing studies conducted in Spain and in other countries
regarding the effective ability of families to exercise school choice. The paper then
describes the sample and the econometric model used in the present empirical study,
sets out the analytical results and offers conclusions.
Policies on school choice in Spain
The Spanish educational system began to take its current shape in the 1970s when
private education gave way to a mixed education system in which the public sector
played the largest role. The General Education Act (LGE) of 1970 established the
regulations and structure for the entire educational system. The LGE, for example,
enabled private schools to offer free school places at compulsory education levels, in
return receiving financial support from the State. This period in which private schools
were the recipients of public funding, however, was not characterised by strong oversight and there were few mechanisms to monitor the funding process. In 1978, the
Spanish Constitution established two fundamental principles to the current educational system: freedom of education and compulsory schooling. The first principle,
conceived as an institutional guarantee for educational pluralism, recognises the right
to create private schools (Article 27.6, Spanish Constitution (SC)) and the right of
parents to choose a school. The principle of compulsory education (Article 27.1, SC)
grows out of the constitutional obligation to provide a democratic educational system,
which aims to reconcile the parental right of school choice with the guarantee of
places in public schools offered at no cost. The two principles converge in Article
27.9, SC, which sets out the constitutional basis for the public funding of private
schools. It was not until the passage of the 1985 Education Act, however, that the
current model of public funding for private education was established (Villarroya
2000). The present system of concerted schools is essentially a legal instrument to
enforce bilateral commitments on the parties involved. In this way, the government
makes a commitment to fund a portion of each institutions costs (staff and running
costs) and the schools, in return, accept a series of obligations which include providing
free education in the concerted subject areas, offering an optional array of supplementary and extracurricular activities and other services which are all non-discriminatory
and non-profit in nature, and committing to non-discriminatory practices in the

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Journal of Education Policy

675

student admissions process. As a result, Spain has networks of public schools,


partially publicly funded (concerted) private schools and independent private schools.
Unlike in most European and Latin American countries, concerted schools in Spain
follow the same rules as schools in the public system (Andrada 2008).
Since 2000, roughly 32% of all non-university students have attended private
schools (33.2% in the academic year 200506). Unlike in other countries, the majority
of these students (approximately 80% in 2006; see Fernndez Enguita 2008) have
done so in concerted schools, although differences do exist across regions: private
education is more prominent in regions with higher per capita income and where
private schools, especially religious schools, have had a stronger tradition. As shown
in Table 1, all regions with an income or gross domestic product per capita higher than
the Spanish average also have a higher percentage of students in private schools
(mainly in concerted ones).
The increasing flow of public moneys into the private sector, the evidence of
student selection practices employed by some concerted schools and alleged irregularities in the collection of fees from families have given rise to recurring protests against
the system of concerted private education (Villarroya 2000, 2002, 2003; Calero and
Escardbul 2007a; Mancebn and Prez 2007). In response, the Spanish government
has been adopting various measures linked to student admissions processes (aimed at
increasing their transparency, particularly in concerted schools) and to the schools
sharing of information with families (concerning educational offerings, catchment
areas and so forth). With respect to admissions, various administrations have been
working together to minimise the possibility that families infringe the priority criteria.
Table 1. Percentage of students in non-university education attending public and private schools
and Gross Domestic Product per capita (GDPpc) by autonomous regions, course 2005/06.

Madrid
Basque Country
Navarre
Catalonia
Balearic Islands
Aragon
La Rioja
Cantabria
Castile and Leon
Valencian Community
Ceuta and Melilla
Asturias
Canarias
Murcia
Galicia
Castile la Mancha
Andalusia
Extremadura
Spanish average

Public

Private concerted

53.4
48.7
65.4
60.6
62.5
63.5
65.0
64.5
66.7
67.9
77.6
68.9
76.7
73.1
70.8
81.6
76.2
79.4
66.8

28.0
50.3
34.5
32.3
33.0
27.2
31.5
23.7
29.7
26.7
20.4
20.2
17.3
22.3
24.7
16.5
16.0
14.5
25.5

Private independent GDPpc (2006)

Source: Own elaboration based on MEPSyD (2008) and Ine (2008).

18.7
1.0
0.0
7.1
4.5
9.3
3.5
11.8
3.6
5.4
1.9
10.9
6.0
4.6
4.5
1.9
7.8
6.2
7.7

29.070
28.643
28.006
26.291
24.431
23.923
23.918
22.047
21.247
20.435
20.193
20.170
19.837
18.646
18.525
17.379
17.309
15.125
22.290

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676

J.-O. Escardbul and A. Villarroya

Specific examples include the tax agencys provision of data on family income and
the city halls census statistics. In addition, the 2006 Education Act (Spanish acronym
LOE) requires regional educational authorities to create committees and bodies to
guarantee equality in the application of admission rules in any municipality where the
demand for places exceeds the supply. The bodies are formed by representatives of the
educational authority, local government, parents, teachers, and public and concerted
schools, and their aim is to supervise the student admissions process, ensuring that the
rules are met, and advise the educational authorities on any measures considered
necessary for their application. With respect to information, all schools are obliged to
inform parents and pupils about the contents of their educational project, their policies
and their pedagogical characteristics, while the public sector is obliged to publish a
list of those schools financed by public funds located in each area. The list must
include the educational levels and services each school supplies. The public sector is
also obliged to ensure that information about schools is objective and free of references to the cultural and socioeconomic level of families with children attending the
schools. These special measures have sought to bring greater equality to all families
in the exercise of their freedom of school choice.
With respect to student admissions, the criteria for attending public and concerted
private schools are set by the central government (the most recent legislation is the
2006 Education Act) and minor adjustments can be made by regional administrations.
In general, there is no explicit limitation on a familys ability to select a school. Nonetheless, where excess demand exists (as is commonly the case in large cities), the
ability is restricted according to criteria set by the educational administrations. Two
kinds of criteria have historically determined pupils admissions in Spain: priority
criteria and supplementary criteria. As shown in Table 2, current regulations prioritise
sibling enrolment, parents (or legal guardians) working in the same school and
proximity of the household or parents workplace to the school, although they also
take into account household income, cases of disability and academic performance (in
admissions to upper secondary education). Sibling enrolment in the school provides
the highest priority marks in all regions except Andalusia, Extremadura and Murcia.
In addition, several regions give the same marks for having a parent or legal guardian
working in the school, although lower points arise for this factor in Andalusia,
Aragon, the Canary Islands, Cantabria, Castile-La Mancha and Extremadura. In addition, the proximity of the home or workplace to the school is another criterion given
relatively high marks in nearly all regions. Supplementary criteria include family size
(in all regions, except Asturias, the Basque Country, Cantabria, Extremadura, Galicia
and Navarra), some chronic illnesses in the case of the student (Aragon, Catalonia and
Madrid) and other circumstances of importance (such as whether the student is an elite
sportsperson or the students parents are members of a cooperative association).
Should applicants achieve the same priority score, the tie is broken by comparing their
marks from the highest to the lowest priority criteria. If the tie persists, a public lottery
is held.
As other authors have indicated, the regulations have gradually eroded the weight
of criteria focused on equality, particularly family income criteria (Villarroya 2000;
Escardbul and Calero 2006; Mancebn and Prez 2007). The closeness-to-home
criterion has also been questioned in the Spanish context, among other reasons, for
limiting choice to the nearest school. Of particular importance are the school districting policies, which define catchment areas and, to a great extent, affect the marks a
family can obtain for proximity. How these areas are defined can have a strong effect

1
0

1
0.75
0.75

1.5
1

2
1
0.5

10
5

8
1
5

6
1

4.5

5.5

4
3
4 to 7

1
0.5
0.5

1
1
1

0 to 0.5 to
2
1.5

8
8
8

3
2
1

2
1

5
3
1

1
1
1

4
3
2

2
2
2

3
1

10

10

1
0.5
0.5

0.5

5
3
5

0.5

5
3
5

10 3 to 5
10 1.5 to 3
10 1.5 to 3

10

10 or
15

20

30

40

40

3
2
1

3
2
1

2
1

5
2
5

2
1
1

0.5

5
2
5

1.5
1.5
1.5

1 to 2

4
3

2
1
1

0.5

4
2
4

2
0.5
0.5

0.5 to
1.5

4
1
4

2a

4
5

AND ARA AST BAL CAN CANT C-LM C-L CAT CVAL EXT GAL LRIO MAD MUR NAV PVAS

Priority and supplementary criteria in school admission: regional regulation, 2008.

Priority criteria
Siblings enrolled at the school,
or parents or legal guardians
employed there:
First sibling enrolled
For each sibling
For parent or tutor
Proximity of the household or
parents workplace:
Home within the schools
catchment area
Workplace within the
schools catchment area
Home just outside the
schools catchment area
Workplace just outside
the schools catchment
area
Other areas
Annual household income:
Equal to or less than the
IPREM (Spains standard
public income indicator)
Up to twice the IPREM
More than twice the
IPREM
Disability:
Student
Either parent
Sibling(s)

Table 2.

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Journal of Education Policy


677

(Continued).

Yes

Yes

0.5

1
2

5
4 or 3
2
1

1
2
1
Yes Yes

1
Yes

3
2
1

Yes

2
1

Yes

5
4 or 3
2
1

10

15

Yes Yes

1
1.5

Yes

1d

3
5

1
0.5
0.25

Yes Yes

3
2
1

1
Yes

2
3

1
1
Yes

1.5
2.5

1
Yes

1
2
2
Yes

2*
Yes

AND ARA AST BAL CAN CANT C-LM C-L CAT CVAL EXT GAL LRIO MAD MUR NAV PVAS

Note: a = 0.25 points can be added for other siblings to a maximum of 3; b = This criteria is used only to break the tie; c = Average grade (scale 010); d= in C. Valenciana
(CVAL) two points are given whether the student is an elite sports person. In the Basque Country (PVAS) two points are given whether the students parents are members
of 2 cooperative association.

Chronic illness of student


Any other circumstance
Criteria applied in the case of a
tie

Complementary criteria
Large family:
General
Special

Academic performance in
lower secondary to access
upper-sec.:
Excellent
Very good
Good
Pass

Table 2.

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J.-O. Escardbul and A. Villarroya

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on the socioeconomic and racial diversity of the student body, although other factors,
such as the make-up of the surrounding neighbourhood, the number and type of
private schools in the municipality, and the differing strategies employed by families
in making school choices also have to be considered (Alegre, Benito, and Gonzlez
2008).
In recent years, new groups of students, basically through immigration, have
entered the educational system, bringing to light some of the difficulties faced by
given social groups in choosing a school. These difficulties have given rise to an
unequal distribution of students across school types. More specifically, a large proportion of foreign students, and those who for socioeconomic reasons also have need of
educational support in general, have enrolled in schools that are public: in the
academic year 200506, 82% of foreign students pursued non-university education in
public schools, whereas the figure was 66.3% for domestic students (MEPSyD 2008).
In addition, the differential effect of immigration on the public school system has led
to flight on the part of the middle class towards concerted schools, which is a policy
actually fostered by the governments of some regions. As a result, the network of
concerted schools may well be seen to act as a subsidy to the middle class, allowing
them to send their children to private schools removed from the effects of immigration
(Calero and Escardbul 2007b; Fernndez Enguita 2008). The situation has given rise
to voices of concern noting that a dual educational system may be developing in Spain
(Bonal 2002).
Similarly, some public school policies, particularly the ones linked to fewer activities and fewer hours devoted to students, could also exacerbate the process
(Escardbul and Calero 2006). To mitigate these effects, the latest educational reform
of 2006 introduces measures that benefit students with specific needs for educational
assistance as well as late-joining students, who are largely immigrants. In particular,
the law requires that public administrations set the proportion of students with specific
needs for educational assistance that must be accepted in each public and concerted
private school, and it ensures that the school receives the staffing and financial
resources required to provide the assistance. The law also enables the educational
authorities to hold back a portion of the places in public and concerted private schools
until the end of the pre-enrolment and registration periods. In the case of late-joining
students, the law enables educational authorities to increase the maximum number of
students per classroom by up to 10% in public and concerted private schools in the
same district. Lastly, the law bans public and concerted private schools from accepting
money from families receiving cost-free education, prohibits the imposition of obligatory contributions to foundations or associations and excludes the establishment of
obligatory services associated with the provision of education which require a financial contribution from students families. The governments oversight of the student
admissions process has also been increased in publicly funded schools, both private
and public ones, in order to prevent student selection decision that fails to meet what
is required by regulation.
Factors determining school choice
This section gathers together the results of the main studies that have been conducted
nationally and internationally on the influence of personal, family, motivational,
geographic and educational policy factors in the decision to enrol in a public or private
school.

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J.-O. Escardbul and A. Villarroya

Personal factors
Most studies on school choice examine the gender and ethnicity of students in their
analysis of personal factors. In the case of gender, the results of studies conducted
nationally are not conclusive. For example, Arellano and Zamarro (2007) find that an
only child who is female is more likely to attend a concerted school, while Mancebn
and Prez (2007) show that for the regions of Aragon, Asturias and Extremadura the
likelihood of attending a concerted school is higher for sons than daughters. Turning
to the international arena, studies in the USA have also found the results from the
gender variable to be inconclusive. While gender seems to have no effect on school
choice in a number of studies (Long and Toma 1988; Lankford and Wyckoff 1992;
Yang and Kayaardi 2004), other studies show a higher likelihood of daughters attending a private school than sons (Buddin, Cordes, and Kirby 1998; Bedi and Garg 2000).
Looking at the effect of ethnicity on school choice in the case of Catalonia and the
city of Zaragoza, Snchez (2008) and Bernal (2005), respectively, observe that ethnic
minorities and immigrants lean more heavily towards the public sector. Internationally, the literature has shown the clear significance of student ethnicity in school
choice. Numerous studies point to the under-representation of black and Hispanic
students in private schools in the USA and find an under-representation of ethnic
minorities linked to immigration in certain European countries. (See a review of these
studies in Fairlie and Resch 2002; Betts and Fairlie 2003; Denessen, Driessena, and
Sleegers 2005; Andersen 2008; Goldring and Phillips 2008.) Some recent analyses,
however, draw attention to the dwindling effect of ethnicity as social factors improve
(Yang and Kayaardi 2004; Goldring and Phillips 2008).
Family factors
Various recent studies in Spain have analysed the influence of family factors on the
school choices made by families. In the case of selecting private schools, Calero and
Bonal (1999), Villarroya (2000), Bonal, Rambla, and Ajenjo (2004) and GarcaSerrano and Albert (2006) show how a skilled job held by the main wage-earner and
a high education level achieved by the father and mother favour a familys selection
of a private school (Urquizu (2008) points only to the positive effect of the mothers
educational level). Other writers have also shown the positive effect of a familys
income level (Calero and Escardbul 2005; Hidalgo 2005; Urquizu 2008) as a factor
affecting the selection of a private school. This result is further supported by Fuenmayor, Granell, and Villarreal (2003), Bonal, Rambla, and Ajenjo (2004) and Bernal
(2005) in their local and regional analyses. To the factors mentioned above, Urquizus
study (2008) adds cultural level as a factor positively correlated to the selection of a
private school and Fernndez-Esquinas (2004) adds social class in his analysis for
Andalusia. The results of national and regional studies focusing on concerted schools
are similar to the results for private schools taken as a whole (see Arellano and
Zamarro 2007; Mancebn and Prez 2007; Urquizu 2008).
In the international sphere, a correlation has clearly been demonstrated in the UK
between individual choice and social class. Following the studies conducted by
Edwards and Whitty (1992), Ball (1993), Gewirtz, Ball, and Bowe (1993,1995), Ball,
Bowe, and Gewirtz (1996), Walford (1996a,1996b), Ambler (1997) and Gordon and
Whitty (1997) concerning the policies introduced at the end of 1980, it can be seen
how policies favouring choice have tended to reproduce social divisions. Later
reforms have continued to increase choice for families, leading to greater educational

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inequalities by legitimising the strategies of the middle class (Ball 2003; Power et al.
2003; Oria et al. 2007). Depending on the profile and financial means of each social
group, various strategies can be observed, ranging from selecting prestigious private
schools to creating or colonising specific niches within the public sector (Maloutas
2007). The positive effect of social class on the power to choose schools is highlighted
in various studies covering France (see Langout and Lger 2000; van Zanten 2001,
2003; Poupeau 2004; Poupeau, Franois, and Couratier 2007).
For the USA, the empirical evidence highlights the impact of income (Coleman
and Hoffer 1987; Sandy 1989; Lankford, Lee, and Wyckoff 1995; Schneider, Schiller,
and Coleman 1996; Buddin, Cordes, and Kirby 1998; Figlio and Stone 2001; Goldring and Phillips 2008) and family educational levels (Coleman, Hoffer, and Kilgore
1982; Noell 1982; Coleman and Hoffer 1987; Long and Toma 1988; Sandy 1989;
Lankford and Wyckoff 1992, 2001; Lankford, Lee, and Wyckoff 1995; Buddin,
Cordes, and Kirby 1998; Figlio and Stone 2001; Yang and Kayaardi 2004) on access
to private schools. Coleman, Hoffer, and Kilgore (1982) also point out the positive
effect in the USA of household cultural capital on the likelihood of attending a private
(Catholic) school.
Some studies have also included family structure, i.e. the number of children and
the composition of the household, as a determining factor in school choice. With
regard to children, Garca-Serrano and Albert (2006) note that being the oldest sibling
brings with it a higher likelihood of attending private school in Spain. On household
composition, Yang and Kayaardi (2004) point to various studies on the USA showing
that nuclear, two-parent families with fewer children are more likely to select private
schools, although this is not corroborated in their own study or in the work of Buddin,
Cordes, and Kirby (1998).
Geographic factors
Spanish national studies demonstrate the importance of living in regions with a strong
tradition of private education (Villarroya 2000; Hidalgo 2005), or in large cities where
the plurality and diversity of schools, the extent of public transport networks and
greater access to information all work to facilitate the selection of a private school
(Villarroya 2000; Arellano and Zamarro 2007). Arellano and Zamarro (2007) also
find that provinces with higher incomes show a greater likelihood of selecting private
schools. International studies highlight the significance of household location in large
capital cities (Lankford and Wyckoff 1992; Lankford, Lee, and Wyckoff 1995;
Buddin, Cordes, and Kirby 1998) or in given regions (Yang and Kayaardi 2004) on
gaining access to private schools.
Motivational factors
Families and individuals also choose between one school and another based on motivational factors, including religious orientation, family tradition, educational quality,
school facilities, extracurricular activities, geographic proximity and school peers.
One of the main factors in selecting a private school in Spain is its religious character.
In the case of concerted schools, families that identify themselves as members of a
religious organisation or as believers are more likely to choose a religious or private
school for their children (Garca-Serrano and Albert 2006; Arellano and Zamarro
2007). Regionally, Mancebn and Prez (2007) note that, for secondary education in

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J.-O. Escardbul and A. Villarroya

Aragon, Asturias and Extremadura, a student is more likely to attend a concerted


school if the familys selection is motivated by prestige or family tradition, while the
likelihood falls if the choice is taken on the grounds of proximity. Moreover, Olmedo
and Santa Cruz (2008) point out that middle class families in the city of Granada
(Andalusia) show a preference for schools which guarantee good academic results,
promoting and encouraging pupils to reach their highest potential. They also indicate
the influence exerted by classmates and close friends in maintaining such expectations, as well as the preparation of the teachers and the methodologies used by them.
Finally, they show how private schools are seen as a refuge as a result of the
opportunities they offer to control the school atmosphere.
At the international level, a number of empirical studies in the USA and various
European countries (e.g. the UK, France and the Netherlands) also highlight the
influence of motivational factors. For example, Echols, McPherson, and Willms
(1990), Lankford and Wyckoff (1992) and Willms and Echols (1992) have demonstrated that one of the most highly valued factors for families when choosing a
school is the socioeconomic profile of school peers. Other studies have singled out
educational quality (Sandy 1989; Lankford and Wyckoff 1992; Coulson 1999;
Langout and Lger 2000; Denessen, Driessena, and Sleegers 2005; Sliwka and
Istance 2006), religious character (Sandy 1989; Yang and Kayaardi 2004; Denessen,
Driessena, and Sleegers 2005), academic performance (Coleman and Hoffer 1987;
Chubb and Moe 1990; Fiske and Ladd 2000) or the ethnic composition of the
surrounding community (Conlon and Kimenyi 1991; Figlio and Stone 1997; Fairlie
and Resch 2002).
Educational policy factors
Few studies pursuing this sort of analysis have introduced variables related to the
supply of educational services, particularly variables that reflect the intervention of
the government in the educational sphere. In Spain, Arellano and Zamarro (2007)
indicate that the percentage of concerted schools out of the total number of schools
has a positive influence on the likelihood of selecting a concerted school. Internationally, Langout and Lger (2000) also point to the impact of the supply of private
schools on the selection decisions taken by French families. For the USA, Figlio and
Stone (2001) show that a high concentration of public schools and the student
teacher ratio both play key roles in the make-up of student bodies in public and
private school, particularly in retaining students who may more easily opt out of the
public sector.
As noted in a previous section, school districting policies play an important role in
the make-up of student bodies. In a study of 10 Catalan municipalities conducted by
Benito and Gonzlez (2007), it was found that unified district models (in which one
district includes all the schools in the municipality, both public and concerted private)
and multiple district models (in which multiple districts overlap various public
schools and the concerted private schools are included as well) tend to result in lower
levels of socioeconomic and racial polarisation than models in which a single school
district is assigned to a single public school. The effect of districting in the Catalan
study is consistent with international studies carried out by Hoxby (2000) and Gorard,
Taylor, and Fitz (2003), who found that districting based on assigning to each school
the area surrounding it generally reproduced broader social inequalities within the
school.

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Methodology
This section describes the sample used and sets out the econometric model employed
in the empirical analysis.
Sample
Turning to the sample, the analysis of factors affecting school choice is conducted
using data from the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA), which
offers an evaluation of the level of knowledge and abilities possessed by students of
15 years of age in various OECD member and associate nations. This study uses data
from the latest assessment, conducted in 2006, as well as data from the 2003 assessment, because some factors considered relevant for this study were collected in 2003
but not in 2006, for example, preferences concerning school choice (i.e. motivational
factors). In the Spanish case, the 2006 assessment counted 19,604 students as participants compared to 10,791 in 2003. Since most of Spanish regions took part in the 2006
assessment, we also include in the analysis some regional variables gathered by the
Spanish National Statistical Office (INE) and the Spanish Ministry of Education,
Social Policy and Sport to examine effects associated with educational policy.
With respect to the dependent variable, the PISA sample is representative of the
population in terms of students in the second cycle of compulsory education (lower
secondary), which is the level containing 97% of the sampled students in PISA 2003
and 94% in PISA 2006. The sole exception concerns independent private schools (the
least common option), especially in 2006, because the PISA sample over-represents
these students. More specifically, actual students in Spanish public schools represent
65% of the total in both 2003 and 2006, with the PISA sample figure running quite
close at 6465%. The proportion of actual students from concerted schools falls in the
range 3031%, while they make up only 28% of the sample. Actual students from
independent private schools, on the other hand, account for roughly 3.5%, which
differs from the sample values of 7.7% in 2003 and 10.1% in 2006.
In the analysis, the variables considered to be factors determining school choice
(explanatory variables) are correlated to attributes of demand (students and families)
and supply (educational policy). See the main descriptive statistics for 2003 and 2006
in Table 3.
Personal traits
The personal variables used relate to student age (between 15- and slightly over 16years old) and gender. From the 2003 sample, categorical variables are considered in
connection with preschool education, namely whether the student has attended preschool
education and, if so, whether it was for one year or less or for more than one year. Lastly,
student age at the start of primary education is examined as is the students educational
expectation regarding years of schooling. In 2006, no information is provided on educational expectations, but job expectations do appear (i.e. whether the student aspires to
a qualified white-collar job, an unqualified white-collar job or a blue-collar job).
Family traits
Family traits refer to household structure and the households socioeconomic and
cultural make-up. With respect to structure, the 2003 data are used to examine whether

684

J.-O. Escardbul and A. Villarroya

Table 3.

Covariates description and descriptive statistics.

Variable

Minimum

Maximum

Average
2003

Average
2006

15.250
15.330
0.000
0.000
0.000
0.000
5.000
0.000
0.000
0.000
0.000
0.000
0.000
0.000
0.000
0.000
0.000
4.116
0.000
0.000
0.000
0.000
0.000
0.000
0.000
0.000
0.000
0.000
1.676
0.000
0.000
0.000
0.000
0.000
0.000
0.000
0.000
0.000
0.000
0.000
0.000
0.000

16.420
16.330
1.000
1.000
1.000
1.000
9.000
14.000
1.000
1.000
1.000
1.000
1.000
1.000
1.000
1.000
1.000
2.180
1.000
1.000
1.000
1.000
1.000
1.000
1.000
1.000
16.000
16.000
1.051
1.000
1.000
1.000
1.000
1.000
1.000
1.000
1.000
1.000
1.000
1.000
1.000
1.000

15.850

0.508
0.054
0.102
0.844
5.835
11.807

0.813

0.034

0.195
0.287
0.075
0.444
0.313
0.187
0.317
0.184
10.150
10.110
0.149

0.482
0.478
0.278
0.136
0.089
0.335
0.574
0.332
0.094

15.825
0.494

0.626
0.273
0.101

0.285

0.931
0.061
0.008
0.129
0.322
0.370
0.080
0.229
0.330
0.157
0.339
0.174
10.329
10.301

0.927
0.449

0.610
0.300
0.090
0.202
0.177
0.621

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Age
Women
No preschool
Preschool up to one year
Preschool more than one year
Age at the start of primary education
Educational expectation
Job expectation: qualified white-collar
Job expectation: unqualified white-collar
Job expectation: blue-collar
Nuclear family
Parents from different region
Immigrant
Native
First-generation immigrant
Second-generation immigrant
Family wealth1
Mother occupation: qualified white-collar
Mother occupation: unqualified white-collar
Mother occupation: qualified blue-collar
Mother occupation: unqualified blue-collar
Father occupation: qualified white-collar
Father occupation: unqualified white-collar
Father occupation: qualified blue-collar
Father occupation: unqualified blue-collar
Mothers years of schooling
Fathers years of schooling
Computer at home1
Use of computer at home
More than 100 books at home
Local school preferred
School is best
Course offerings preferred
Religious school preferred
Other family members attended school
Municipality up to 100,000 inhabitants
Municipality 100,0001,000,000 inhabitants
More than one million inhabitants
No school competition
Competition with one school
Competition with two or more schools

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Table 3.

685

(Continued).

Variable
Region with share of students in public
schools higher than Spanish average
Students regional share in concerted schools
Students regional share independent schools
Share of population at compulsory school age
Share of foreigners 015 years old/total 015

Minimum

Maximum

Average
2003

Average
2006

0.000

1.000

0.751

0.179
0.002
0.075
0.029

0.504
0.086
0.123
0.137

0.254
0.068
0.105
0.037

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1
Index scaled using a one-parameter item response model. Its interpretation is with regards to results for
the whole OECD countries (see OECD 2005).

the father and mother both live in the household and whether the student or students
parents were born abroad. In 2006, there is no data on the first aspect, but the sample
does show whether immigrants are first-generation (student and parents born abroad)
or second-generation (parents born abroad but not the student). Whether the parents
come from the same region is also considered.
The variables for socioeconomic traits refer to job status and the educational,
cultural and economic level of the household. Job variables take into consideration
whether the father and mother have jobs that are qualified white-collar, unqualified
white-collar or blue-collar (qualified or unqualified). In terms of the parents educational level, the mothers and fathers years of schooling are considered. The familys
culture level is evaluated based on information concerning whether the household has
more than 100 books and IT resources (computer with Internet connection). In 2006,
the information on IT resources looks at usage and compares non-usage at home,
which could be correlated to non-possession of a computer, with any other level of
usage. Also in 2006, information is provided on household wealth, using information
available on the possession of certain kinds of furniture, vehicles and domestic appliances. Only the survey completed by parents reveals income in monetary terms,
although this variable was not used in the assessment of Spanish students.
Similarly, the 2003 assessment includes information on the reasons that have led
students or their parents to select the school they attend, with students responding
affirmatively or negatively to the following: it is the local school for people living in
the area; the school is considered better than other schools in the area; I like the
current course offerings; I like the philosophy or religious affiliation of the school;
and other members of my family have attended in the past.
Geographic traits of schools and other factors affecting supply
The analysis includes the size of the municipality in which the school is found, broken
down into three groups: less than 100,000 inhabitants, between 100,000 and 1000,000
inhabitants, and over 1000,000 inhabitants. In the 2006 sample, the level of current
competition among schools is also considered through the inclusion of three options:
(1) no schools in the area compete for students; (2) there is one competing school; and
(3) there are two or more competing schools.
As indicated earlier, the analysis also looks at regional educational variables,
which may have an impact regionally on the structure of the educational system.

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686

J.-O. Escardbul and A. Villarroya

These variables are provided by the Spanish National Institute of Statistics and the
Ministry of Education, Social Policy and Sport. Most of the variables appear in the
2006 analysis, which has information on 10 regions with independent samples that
are statistically significant (Andalusia, Asturias, Aragon, Cantabria, Castile and Leon,
Catalonia, Galicia, La Rioja, Navarre and the Basque Country; in 2003 only Castile
and Leon, Catalonia and the Basque Country fit into this category). For 2006, therefore, the following factors are considered for each region with an independent sample:
percentage of students in concerted private schools out of the total number of students
in non-university education; percentage of students in independent private schools out
of the total number of students in non-university education; size of population at
compulsory school age (616 years); and percentage of foreigners who are 015 years
of age out of the total population in that age group. For the regions that do not provide
a value, the average value is used for each.
Using regional income per capita has been discarded because of problems of
multicollinearity with the variable representing the percentage of students in concerted
private schools. From the 2003 data, the analysis only uses a dummy variable indicating whether a region has a percentage of students in public schools that is higher than
the Spanish average. Effectively, the variable takes a value of 1 for the three regions
examined independently (Castile and Leon, Catalonia and the Basque Country) and
0 for all other regions.
Econometric analysis
In the analysis put forward, families can choose among three options: enrolling their
children in public schools, concerted private schools or independent private schools.
Given the possibility of unordered multiple choices, the best method of analysis is to
apply a multinomial logit regression model (Greene 2003). This sort of model is based
on the assumption that consumer i must choose among J options. Yi is a variable that
stands for the alternative selected and equation (1) shows the likelihood of selecting j
(for j = 0, , J), where Xi represents the exogenous variables characterising the individual, j represents the parameters to be estimated and e represents the exponential
function. In the case under analysis, the dependent variable can take three values (0 =
private school,1 = concerted private, 2 = independent private) and the probability of
choosing either cases 1 or 2 with respect to 0 is taken into consideration:
Pr obij (Y = j | xi ) =

'j xi

1+ e

(1)
'j xi

k =1

The parameters are obtained using a maximum likelihood estimation. The logarithmic
fit can be derived by defining, for each individual (1, , n) and each of the alternatives in J, dij =1 if individual i chooses alternative j and 0 for all other alternatives:
n

In L = dij In Pr ob (Yi = j )

(2)

i =1 j =0

The impact of each independent variable considered in terms of the odds-ratio can be
estimated from equation (3):

Journal of Education Policy

Pr ob ij
xi

= Pr ob ij j Pr ob ik k = Pr ob ij [ j ]

k =0

687

(3)

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Lastly, following Allison (2002), any missing response has been handled by assigning
in its place the average value of the variable and creating a dummy variable that distinguishes between missing individuals and individuals that provide a value. (This last
variable has been omitted from the results tables for ease of reading.) The assignment
of a value is not carried out for the dependent variables, giving the empirical study
19,220 observations in 2006 (98% of the total) and 10,056 observations in 2003 (93%
of the total).
Results
Table 4 sets out the empirical results from analysing the choices made between public,
concerted private and independent private schools. The table shows the coefficient
values and the standard errors. A coefficient carrying a positive sign represents an
increase (in the logarithm) of the relationship between the probabilities of attending a
concerted private school and an independent private school with respect to selecting a
public school, while a negative value represents a decrease. Likewise, multicollinearity is not observed (computing the variance-inflation factor index) and the standard
error estimates are robust, allowing us to control for heteroskedasticity.
With respect to the personal traits of students, age is not significant, which is
logical given that all the individuals are either 15- or 16-years old. Nor is gender very
significant; being female has a negative effect on the probability of attending an independent private school, but the level of significance is low. Not attending preschool
or only attending for one year or less lowers the likelihood of later attending a
concerted private school in comparison to attending more than one year of preschool.
The same effect, however, is not observed for independent private schools. Student
expectations have a positive effect on the probability of attending private schools.
More specifically, the expectation of achieving a higher educational level and securing a more qualified job has a positive effect on the likelihood of attending concerted
or independent private schools, but particularly the latter.
In terms of family traits, a nuclear family structure (students living with a father
and a mother) has a negative effect on the likelihood of choosing an independent
private school. In the case of nationality, the 2006 results show that being a firstgeneration immigrant lowers the probability of selecting either category of private
school, while being a second-generation immigrant only has a negative effect on the
probability of attending a concerted school and the magnitude of the effect is slight.
In other words, second-generation immigrants born in Spain more closely resemble
their native-born counterparts in school choice. The 2003 analysis also demonstrates
the negative impact of being an immigrant on the likelihood of choosing a concerted
school. (In this case, however, immigrants cannot be broken down into two groups
because of the limited sample size.)
School choice is clearly affected by the social class of students fathers and
mothers, particularly their fathers, defined as a function of job. When compared to
families in which the father has a qualified blue-collar job, families in which the
father has a white-collar job (especially a qualified one) have a greater likelihood of
choosing a private school. Turning to mothers, the positive effects are less significant,

Variables
Age
Women
No preschool
Preschool up to one year
Age at the start of primary education
Educational expectation
Job expectation: qualified white-collar
Job expectation: unqualified white-collar
Nuclear Family
Parents from different region
Immigrant
First-generation immigrant
Second-generation immigrant
Mother qualified white-collar
Mother unqualified white-collar
Mother unqualified blue-collar
Father qualified white-collar
Father unqualified white-collar
Father unqualified blue-collar
Mothers years of schooling
Fathers years of schooling
Family wealth

Log Odds (SE)


0.120 (0.087)
0.006 (0.526)
0.449 (0.113) ***
0.182 (0.089) *
0.109 (0.066)
0.092 (0.156) ***

0.009 (0.074)

0.721 (0.182) ***

0.065 (0.127)
0.180 (0.119)
0.222 (0.110)
0.344 (0.072) ***
0.178 (0.077) *
0.114 (0.072)
0.022 (0.008) **
0.033 (0.008) ***

Concerted
Log Odds (SE)
0.155 (0.160)
0.184 (0.096)
0.205 (0.218)
0.170 (0.183)
0.112 (0.103)
0.098 (0.033) **

0.302 (0.123) *

0.404 (0.338)

0.578 (0.283) *
0.456 (0.273)
0.197 (0.227)
0.729 (0.140) ***
0.171 (0.167)
0.063 (0.165)
0.018 (0.017)
0.037 (0.016) *

Independent
Log Odds (SE)
0.055 (0.060)
0.022 (0.036)

0.154 (0.073) *
0.008 (0.078)

0.034 (0.038)

0.824 (0.099) ***


0.432 (0.259)
0.113 (0.093)
0.180 (0.088) *
0.011 (0.094)
0.358 (0.050) ***
0.223 (0.058) ***
0.112 (0.092)
0.009 (0.006)
0.029 (0.005) ***
0.283 (0.028) ***

Concerted

Log Odds (SE)


0.113 (0.111)
0.131 (0.065)

0.785 (0.186) ***


0.444 (0.197) *

0.021 (0.069)

0.977 (0.208) ***


0.073 (0.400)
0.537 (0.191) **
0.131 (0.190)
0.012 (0.211)
0.742 (0.099) ***
0.445 (0.118) ***
0.226 (0.134)
0.075 (0.013) ***
0.069 (0.012) ***
0.467 (0.049) ***

Independent

2003

2006

J.-O. Escardbul and A. Villarroya

Table 4. Multinomial logistic regression models predicting the likelihood of parents choosing a private concerted school or a private independent
school versus a public school.

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688

(Continued).

***p < .001; **p < .01; *p < .05; < .10.
Note: SE = Robust standard errors in brackets.

More than 100 books at home


Computer at home
Use of computer at home
Local school preferred
School is best
Course offerings preferred
Religious school preferred
Other family members attended
Competition with one school
Competition with two or more
Municipality 100,0001,000,000
More one million inhabitants
Region with share of students in public schools
higher than Spanish average
Students regional share in concerted schools
Students regional share independent schools
Share of population at compulsory school age
Share of foreigners 015 years old / total 015
Constant
N
Pr ob > 2
R2-Nagelkerke

Variables

Table 4.

0.679 (2.596)

3.332 (1.367)
10,056
0.000
0.28

0.187 (0.106)
0.248 (0.058) ***

2.256 (0.127) ***


0.369 (0.103) ***
0.314 (0.155) *
2.574 (0.169) ***
0.115 (0.097)

0.035 (0.108)
2.220 (0.192) ***
0.541 (0.109) ***

Log Odds (SE)

Independent

0.004 (0.053)
0.118 (0.029) ***

1.609 (0.053) ***


0.439 (0.060) ***
0.357 (0.081) ***
2.674 (0.124) ***
0.250 (0.054) ***

0.789 (0.051) ***


1.547 (0.159) ***
0.838 (0.054) ***

Log Odds (SE)

Concerted

2003
Concerted

3.150 (0.273) ***


3.039 (0.888) ***
3.448 (1.947)
0.217 (0.540)
3.678 (0.990) ***

0.103 (0.037) **

0.143 (0.080)

1.209 (0.092) ***


2.126 (0.083) ***
0.571 (0.036) ***
0.982 (0.102) ***

Log Odds (SE)

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0.241 (0.073) ***

0.030 (0.203)

0.214 (0.116)
0.100 (0.096)
0.668 (0.070) ***
1.996 (0.130) ***

Log Odds (SE)

Independent

7.304 (0.904) ***


0.764 (1.655)
23.556 (3.714) ***
18.642 (1.173) ***
4.519 (1.877) *
19,604
0.000
0.33

2006

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J.-O. Escardbul and A. Villarroya

particularly with respect to selecting an independent private school. Household


wealth, defined as a function of possessions, raises the likelihood of choosing private
schools and the magnitude of the effect is greater in the case of independent private
schools. With regard to education, having fathers with a higher number of years of
schooling has a positive effect on the selection of a private school of either type. With
regard to mothers, the effect of education is less great, just as it is with respect to
mothers jobs.
Household cultural level is accounted for basically by analysing the effect of
having books in the household, although IT resources are also considered. Book
ownership has a positive effect on the likelihood of selecting private schools, particularly independent ones. The possession of a PC also shows a positive effect on the
selection of a private school, although in the 2006 analysis the effect is slight in the
case of concerted schools, perhaps because of the definition of the variable itself (see
sample description).
As expected, the set of variables related to the motivational aspects of school
choice, which were included only in 2003, have a very significant effect. For example,
the proximity of the school to the family home and the existence of a given educational programme both tip the balance towards public schools rather than private ones.
An inverse effect can be seen in the case of families who single out the philosophy or
religious affiliation of the school in their selection, as well as for families that consider
the school chosen to be better than others. Lastly, previous attendance by other family
members has a positive effect on families who choose concerted schools. In short, the
motivational variables reveal that families who choose private schools value religious
education, consider the schools chosen to be the best ones and enrol in schools which
other family members have attended in the past.
With respect to educational supply factors and their determinants, competition
among schools favours the selection of concerted schools but slightly lowers the likelihood of choosing independent schools. The effect on concerted schools increases
when the number of competing schools rises. As for size of municipality, choosing a
private school is more likely in cities with between one-hundred thousand and one
million inhabitants and, particularly, in cities with more than one million inhabitants,
rather than in municipalities of less than one-hundred thousand inhabitants.
With respect to regional variables, a greater number of different types of schools
in a region, as expected, has an effect on school choice. In the 2003 assessment, it can
be seen that families in the three regions with an independent sample, where the
percentage of students in public schools is below the national average, have a higher
probability of choosing private schools. The 2006 assessment, which has more participating regions, shows that a higher number of students in concerted schools raises the
likelihood of selecting a concerted school and lowers the selection of independent
schools. A larger proportion of students in independent schools, however, does not
have an effect on the probability of choosing an independent school, although it does
reduce the selection of concerted schools.
Finally, taking the effects of the school-age population into account, it can be
seen on the one hand that a higher proportion of individuals at compulsory school
age (616 years of age) in the general population has a negative effect on the likelihood of selecting an independent school and a positive effect on choosing a
concerted school, although at a low level of significance. On the other hand, a higher
percentage of foreigners 015 years of age out of the total population in that age
bracket favours the selection of independent schools. Although the regional variables

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do not cover all the regions, the omission of these variables does not alter the results
obtained for the others (results available upon request).
Conclusions
As in other European countries, the Spanish government has promoted the freedom of
families to choose between public and private schooling basically through the use of
concerted schools. Unlike in other countries, however, the Spanish educational system
boasts a strong presence of private publicly funded (or concerted) schools. This
study has considered demand and supply factors determining school choice.
With respect to demand, the factors related to family have a strong impact on
school choice. That is, not being an immigrant, having parents with better jobs and
higher levels of education, and enjoying a higher endowment of material possessions
and cultural resources all favour the selection of a private school, whether concerted
or independent. Lastly, the educational and job expectations of students, which are
greater in households whose socioeconomics levels are higher (see Glick and White
2004; Turley, Santos, and Ceja 2007; Goyette 2008, as well as Olmedo 2007, for
Spain), favour the selection of private schools. These results, with minor nuances,
concur with the international studies reviewed earlier in the paper. The inclusion of
motivational factors in the analysis shows, as expected, that they are also relevant
when choosing a school.
In the case of educational supply, the geographic distribution of public and private
schools has a clear effect on the likelihoods of choosing the various school types: a
higher number of concerted schools raises the probability of choosing a concerted
school, while a predominance of public schools lowers it. Similarly, a greater number
of both these school types diminishes the likelihood of selecting an independent
school. In addition, competition among schools, which typically points to a higher
number of concerted private schools, favours the selection of concerted schools.
Municipality size also has an impact on school choice. Since large cities have a greater
number of private schools, living in a large city increases the likelihood of selecting a
private school. With regard to demographic factors, having a higher proportion of the
population at compulsory school age reduces the selection of independent schools,
almost certainly because the existence of more potential students leads to more public
and concerted schools. On the other hand, a greater proportion of foreigners in the
school-age population favours the selection of independent schools. (This appears to
reflect a flight effect on the part of the native-born population, as noted earlier in the
theoretical analysis.) The results set out here largely match the previous evidence
examining geographic factors, although this study contributes additional information
on other factors affecting educational supply. Lastly, private schools are marked by
the fidelity of their students. That is, preschool education (largely provided by private
schools), prior attendance by other family members and an express family preference
for religious schools all work to favour concerted schools in particular.
Practically the same variables related to family traits (and even to their motivational factors) affect the selection of concerted and independent private schools in the
same way. However, while independent private schools are allowed to make any
student selection they wish because of their private funding, concerted schools are
subject to the same rules and regulations as public schools. As a consequence, the
results obtained with respect to family traits for the two types of private schools
suggest that concerted schools are acting not as simply one more option within the

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J.-O. Escardbul and A. Villarroya

public school system, but rather as private schools which are partially subsidised.
Such a result calls for actions on the public policy front to foster greater equality of
choice between public and concerted schools.
These policies should include changes to the systems currently used for student
admissions and selection. What is required is not more regulation, which already
exists, but rather better oversight and inspection, aimed at preventing the unlawful
receipt of moneys for items such as reserving places, enrolment fees, payments to
defray school running costs and building projects, and mandatory contributions to
foundations at the schools. In this respect, the existing disparity between the school
choices of immigrants who largely opt for public education and the native-born
population points to imbalances in the policies on school choice. An equitable
distribution among all types of schools requires state intervention, which as begun
tentatively in some regions, to foster a more equitable distribution of immigrants
among schools. While such intervention has been the subject of much criticism on the
grounds that it limits families ability to choose, in reality it increases choice for the
least well-off. Finally, since choice is clearly affected by the unequal access to information enjoyed by different social groups (see Schneider et al. 1998; Goldring and
Hausman 1999; Archbald 2000; Teske and Schneider 2001, and Villarroya 2002; and
Mancebn and Prez 2007, for Spain), the government has to provide information
about schools to all families, especially to those in lower socioeconomic groups. This
is a process in which Spain has noticeably improved in recent years, but there is still
a long way to go.
However, more research is still needed to find out which are the best policies to
pursue to increase equality among families in relation to school choice. In this respect,
both quantitative and qualitative analyses are needed.

Notes on contributors
Josep-Oriol Escardbul is senior lecturer in political economy at the University of Barcelona.
His current research interests include educational policy, vocational education and training as
well as monetary and non-monetary benefits of education. See http://www.eco.ub.es/escard/
homepage.html
Anna Villarroya holds a position as senior lecturer in the Department of Political Economy and
Public Finance at the University of Barcelona. Her current research interests include evaluation
of educational policies, research productivity and gender as well as accreditation and quality
assurance of universities.

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