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  • Writer's pictureJoanne Jacobs

Choice wars

The school choice war has gone hot, writes Neal McCluskey on the Cato @ Liberty blog.

New America’s Kevin Carey lamented “dismal voucher results” in the New York Times, which followed with an editorial calling choice an academic “failure.”

However, “the vast majority of random-assignment studies of private school voucher programs — the “gold-standard” research method that even controls for unobserved factors like parental motivation have found choice producing equivalent or superior academic results, usually for a fraction of what is spent on public schools,” writes McCluskey.

In addition to an unpublished Indiana study, Carey cited an Ohio study with limited scope and a Louisiana study, writes McCluskey. The Louisiana programs heavy regulations “likely encouraged many of the better private schools to stay out.”

Choice gives parents a voice, writes Paul DiPerna of EdChoice in Education Next. He cites a 2016 meta-analysis of gold-standard experimental research.

Participating students usually show modest improvements in reading or math test scores, or both. Annual gains are relatively small but cumulative over time. High school graduation and college attendance rates are substantially higher for participating minority students compared to peers. Programs are almost always associated with improved test scores in affected public schools. They also save money. Those savings can be used to increase per-pupil spending in local school districts. Studies also consistently show that programs increase parent satisfaction, racial integration and civic outcomes.

For DiPerna, however, choice is about more than test scores. His two daughters receive special-education services in public schools. “We are highly satisfied parents with their excellent teachers, aides, and therapists,” he writes.

Even for satisfied parents, choice matters, he writes. “If things go awry in the future, there is a lever to take immediate action to advance the well-being of their child.”

Choice “works” if it enables “parents to educate their children in accordance with their own needs, desires and values,” writes Robert Pondiscio in U.S. News.

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