A new report from the Center on Education on Policy finds no research support for the idea that students benefit from taxpayer-funded vouchers allowing them to attend private schools.
The report, “Keeping Informed about School Vouchers: A Review of Major Developments and Research,” examines 27 studies of voucher programs in Milwaukee, Cleveland, Washington, D.C. and Florida.
Authors Alexandra Usher and Nancy Kober write that the studies “have generally found no clear advantage in academic achievement for students attending private schools with vouchers.”
They cite some evidence, although it’s inconclusive, that voucher students graduate at higher rates than their public-school peers. And not surprisingly, parents of students who receive vouchers tend to be satisfied with their children’s schools.
Another interesting finding: Many of the studies of voucher programs have been sponsored by pro-voucher organizations — in particular the Indianapolis-based Foundation for Educational Choice – raising concern about potential bias.
“This is not to say that individuals or groups with a pro-voucher or anti-voucher stance cannot produce objective and rigorous research,” the report says. “It does speak to a need for the authors of voucher studies to take great care to avoid bias and for other researchers to give close scrutiny to their work.”
It would have been nice if this report had been available in April, when the Indiana legislature was debating and then approving the most extensive school voucher program in the nation. But of course it wouldn’t have made any difference. Republican lawmakers, Gov. Mitch Daniels and state Superintendent Tony Bennett were determined to enact the voucher program, no matter what.
To the extent they bothered with research, they relied for interpretation on the Foundation for Educational Choice, an advocacy group that says virtually all studies find vouchers to be effective. (For a critique of the foundation’s research claims, see this article by Christopher Lubienski of the University of Illinois, part of the Think Twice series of think-tank reviews produced by the National Education Policy Center, no relation to the Center on Education Policy).
Indiana private schools have been rushing to get on the voucher gravy train before school starts this month. But it’s worth remembering that, regardless of the push for vouchers and charter schools, probably 90 percent of Indiana students still attend traditional public schools.
“If we really cared about improving the education of low-income students,” Center on Education Policy president Jack Jennings writes in the Huffington Post, “we would guarantee them high-quality preschool programs, experienced elementary and secondary teachers, high academic standards and fair funding. That is what research tells us will really help those kids and what we ought to commit to doing.”