Duke University: Claims for School Voucher Success in Florida not Justified

posted Jan 28, 2012, 6:19 AM by Bill Duncan   [ updated Jan 29, 2012, 4:49 AM ]

DNHPE Comment: Although advocates continue to rely on the competition argument, Duke's Center for Child and Family Policy discredited the assertion that competition from vouchers improves public schools 10 years ago.

In fact, what this policy brief shows is that, New Hampshire legislators could stimulate the greatest improvement in public schools for the least cost just by instituting an A-F grading system.  Schools the get low grades are very motivated to improve their grades.

(The No Child Left Behind rating of "in need of improvement" doesn't count.  It does't have any real meaning when it applies to 80% of the schools)

Claims for School Voucher Success in Florida not Justified

Helen F. Ladd, Ph.D., Elizabeth J. Glennie, Ph.D.

Recently, much public debate has focused on the use of accountability systems and on vouchers as means to improving education. Advocates of vouchers believe that the adoption of a school voucher system, in which families can use vouchers to send their children to either public or private schools, will spur schools to improve their performance in order to succeed in a competitive education market. In early 2001, the Manhattan Institute published a widely disseminated report that supported this view by claiming that Florida’s voucher system had generated significant improvements in the performance of the state’s lowest performing schools. However, according to Duke University researchers Dr. Helen F. Ladd and Dr. Elizabeth J. Glennie, the improvement of Florida’s low-performing schools probably had more to do with the implementation of that state’s accountability system than with the threat of students leaving the schools via the voucher system.

Ladd and Glennie used North Carolina to replicate the Manhattan Institute study.  North Carolina is similar to Florida in that it has a school-based accountability system that rates schools, but it doesn’t have a voucher program.  Ladd and Glennie found that, as was the case in Florida, North Carolina’s low-performing schools showed significant improvement after receiving their negative label. They concluded that the increased scrutiny and shame associated with being a low-performing school and the receipt of additional state assistance were likely the driving forces for school improvement in Florida, not its voucher program.


Policy Implications
This and similar studies conducted elsewhere suggest that the results cited in the Florida study have little or nothing to do with vouchers.  If vouchers were the explanation for the gains in the F rated schools in Florida, it is unlikely that the Duke University study would have found comparable patterns of gains in the Low Performing schools of North Carolina.