Do vouchers boost achievement?

Vouchers have “no clear positive effect” on student achievement and mixed outcomes overall, according to a review of 27 studies by the Center on Education Policy. From Ed Week‘s Inside Schools Research:

Low-income students receiving vouchers made similar achievement gains to comparable public school students in district schools in several studies, the report found.

The report also noted that some research found that voucher students graduate at a higher rate than their public school peers, and that overall achievement at public schools was higher in those schools most affected by voucher competition. However, the report said it is difficult to tease out causation in those results, because schools most affected by vouchers often are targeted for other intensive school reform efforts.

The CEP review did not include privately funded vouchers or tax credits or voucher programs for students with disabilities or students in foster care.

“CEP’s study narrowly cherry-picks school choice studies in a handful of states and inaccurately characterizes the results of these studies,” said Andrew Campanella, a spokesman for the American Federation for Children, a voucher advocacy program based in Washington.

A rival analysis of voucher research by the Foundation for Educational Choice found large benefits for some programs, but modest gains for most.  No voucher studies have found a negative effect, said Greg Forster, a senior fellow at the foundation. “When the small, restricted programs produce moderately positive results, that indicates we should be trying bigger things,” Forster said.


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  1. Charles R. Williams says:

    If vouchers have no effect on student achievement, we have a strong argument in their favor since they save money and since they expand parental control over their children’s education.

  2. Michael E. Lopez says:

    I was just thinking the same thing, Mr. Williams, though I don’t know about the “save money” part of that; I’ve not looked into the issue closely enough.

    But giving parents more control seems like an obvious benefit.

    I might even be willing to accept a slight decrease in academic achievement for such a benefit. Perhaps not — but that’s what cost-benefit analysis is all about, right?

  3. Tuition voucher policies confer a further advantage over the State-monopoly school system: competitive markets generate more information about what works than do State-monopoly enterprises. A competitive market creates incentives for producers of goods and services to deliver higher performance than competitors at lower costs (and therefore, to profit by the difference between their costs and the market price).
    Tuition voucher discussions usually ignore the cost to society that the State-monopoly system imposes in the lost information that a competitive market would generate.

  4. Perhaps voucher proposals could be better sold as buy-out programs, much the way that employers seeking to avoid company-wide layoffs will sometimes pay workers to retire early.

    Offer parents a voucher worth X dollars to opt out of public education for the year. If too few take up the offer, increase the voucher next year; if too many, reduce it. So long as X is less than the marginal cost of a state-provided education, both families and taxpayers are better off.

    The pricing mechanism described above is intended for families with means; for poor families, you could top up the voucher but only the additional amount should be characterized as relief for poor families.

  5. Ze'ev Wurman says:

    Greg Forster at the Jay Greene blog summarizes it pretty well:

    “For the record, the empirical evidence supporting school choice is overwhelming – stronger than the evidence supporting any other reform policy. Impact sizes are sometimes large but usually modest, not surprising given that existing programs are tiny, underfunded and overregulated. But the evidence is consistent that school choice produces benefits even under these disadvantageous conditions.”