Study credits vouchers for slight gains at Florida public schools, Tampa Bay Times, 6/2/10

posted Feb 4, 2012, 3:50 AM by Bill Duncan   [ updated Feb 4, 2012, 5:52 AM ]
June 2, 2010

Study credits vouchers for slight gains at Florida public schools

By Ron Matus, Times Staff Writer

A researcher not involved in the project says the improvement is too small to have an effect.

Competition from private-school vouchers has led to small academic improvements in Florida's public schools, a new study concludes.

After the state began offering tax-credit vouchers to low-income students in 2001, students in public schools with a greater and more diverse array of private schools around them showed greater gains in standardized test scores than students in other public schools, found David Figlio and Cassandra Hart at Northwestern University.

The gains were about one-third to one-half the size of the gains associated with large reductions in class size. They were biggest for elementary and middle schools, and for schools at risk of losing grant money that is tied to the proportion of low-income students they have.

Figlio emphasized the boost was significant, but modest.

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Another researcher remained skeptical. Stanford labor economist Martin Carnoy, who has studied the impact of vouchers and reviewed the latest study, said Figlio and Hart did "an honest job with the data."

"But here is the real story: even after several years the effect size is TINY," he wrote in an e-mail. "They are so small that even small downside effects would nullify them, leaving vouchers as mainly an ideological exercise."

The findings come as Florida gears up for a massive expansion in tax-credit vouchers thanks to new legislation that will raise the value of individual vouchers over several years. If current growth trends continue, 70,000 students could be using tax-credit vouchers by 2015.

Ron Matus can be reached at matus@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8873.