Studies of Voucher effectiveness

The most definitive study might be the 2009 Milwaukee study, because the program, established in the mid-1990's, is so large.  It says there's no significant difference in academic performance between the public schools and voucher schools (and the program exists because the Milwaukee system was considered to have too many failing schools).

The same University of Arkansas team, who are advocates for school choice, found in its evaluation of the Washington, D.C. that voucher schools had more children going to college, though there is some debate about the comparability of the students in the study.

Attached below are two reports on the effectiveness of vouchers.   One is by CEP, a 57 page, July, 2011 Review of Major Developments and Research on Vouchers.  It covers every issue thoroughly. here is a link to their search on voucher studies.  The is a link to each study cited.  Here is one particularly thorough study CEP cites about the Cleveland experience.

And page 7 of the CEP report does a pretty thorough take down of the second report attached below, saying all the studies cited were by pro-voucher organizations and people.

The other is by the Foundation for Educational Choice, a voucher advocacy organization.  This was provided to New Hampshire's SB 67 committee and will be cited by ETC supporters as evidence of the effectiveness of vouchers.  It's got a glossy presentation and many of the studies cited are by recognized voucher advocates.  It is hard to get find the studies themselves.

Here's a League of Women Voters analysis of Calif. Prop 38 (vouchers) that failed.  Lots of good detail.

Evidence on academic achievement in voucher programs

Ravitch in her book, "Death and Life of the Great American School System"
National Education Policy Center on the various studies that show better academic achievement and competitive benefits in voucher programs, herehereherehere,here, and here

Here is a Cato Institute literature review making the case for maket-based choice vs. "government monopoly" schools.  As the language makes clear, there is no room on the agenda for improving public schools.  The problem is structural: the government controls them.  Click on the link to see the rest of the review: 

By Andrew J. Coulson

During a recent round of visits with print journalists, a newspaper editor told me that she receives between five and ten times as many press releases attacking school choice as she receives in support of it. As a corrective to that lopsided public relations onslaught, she asked if the claims made on behalf of school choice were backed up by solid research, and if so, where that research might be found.

In reality, the vast majority of sound empirical studies comparing competitive education markets to state-run school monopolies give the edge to markets. A few find no significant differences, and only the tiniest percentage find any sort of advantage to government operated schools. Moreover, the superiority of free market education is not limited to higher student achievement, but extends to a variety of positive social effects as well.

What follows is a short list of studies introducing that empirical literature. Since the purpose of this comparison is illustrate differences between traditional state-run schooling and markets of competing private schools, public school choice programs and public charter schools are considered incidentally or not at all. Wherever possible, research summaries are cited so as to make the most efficient use of the reader’s time. The material is organized by topic, and links are provided for studies (or summaries thereof) available on the Internet.


The Fiscal Effects of School Choice Programs on Public School Districts, Friedman Foundation, 3/2012

posted Mar 4, 2012, 3:03 PM by Bill Duncan


DNHPE Comment

The paper is available at the link above.  The first thing to realize is that this is not a "study" - it is an extended argument such as you might have in a bar, with some high level numbers added. 

Here is the question it sets out for itself:

"If a significant number of students left a
public school district for any reason from
one year to the next, then is it feasible for the
district to reduce some of its expenditures
commensurate with the decrease in its
                                student population?" (page 2)

Here is the concrete example it postulates:

"In Cleveland in FY 2010, 11.3 percent of
students exercised school choice with a voucher,
while in Milwaukee 19.7 percent of students used
a voucher." (p. 8)

"As APS [Atlanta Public Schools] was losing 6.57 percent of its students, it 
decreased its teacher force by 6.84 percent. (p. 12)

"After losing 5.3 percent of students
from one year to the next, Hancock County was
able to reduce its teaching staff by 8.8 percent." (p. 15)

It says, "If 
public schools lose students and funding, they could 
choose to lay off the least effective teachers.  
remaining students would be reassigned to more 
effective teachers, which would lead of a significant 
improvement in their academic achievement.
" (P.2)

Really, that's what it says.  The author goes on to say, "The United States’ average spending per student was $12,450 in 2008-09. I estimate that 36 percent of these costs can be considered fixed costs in the short run. The remaining 64 percent, or $7,967 per student, are found to be variable costs, or costs that change with student enrollment."  He back up this assertion by stipulating on page 16 that he will consider the following categories of funding variable expenses:

• Instruction
• Student Support
• Instructional Staff Support
• Enterprise Operations
• Food Service

In fact, this article does make the obvious point that, if the proposed New Hampshire voucher plan grew as the legislation provides for, and 10 years from now succeeded in reducing the enrollment in New Hampshire public schools by 20%, the school systems would indeed shrink dramatically.

But the real question for New Hampshire legislators is why would the sponsors of the New Hampshire voucher bill promote this article at all?  Their whole case is about how small the proposed voucher program is.  Are they suggesting that New Hampshire's school districts will lost 11% of their students, or 19.7%.

Mathis on school choice: What does the research say?, VT Digger, 2/9/12

posted Feb 10, 2012, 3:07 AM by Bill Duncan   [ updated Feb 10, 2012, 3:09 AM ]


Editor’s note: This op-ed is by William J. Mathis, managing director of the National Education Policy Center and a former Vermont superintendent. The views expressed are his own.

School choice has again blipped onto the Vermont political screen. The federal government is bringing pressure on the states to adopt choice schemes, primarily in the form of charter schools. Vested interest think tanks, heavily supported by the deep pockets of the Gates, Broad and Friedman foundations, have been the strong but less visible pushers.

Vermont’s historical choice system was founded on very different principles than today’s ideological agenda. In the 19th century, the aim was to provide public education to all Vermont children and the existing patchwork of private academies and religious schools were folded into a universal system. The purpose of the current movement, however, is to replace public governance with a privatized capitalistic model. The Vermont constitution says the purpose of education is to advance the common good (increase virtue and prevent vice). Thus, providing education as a market commodity fundamentally changes the democratic purpose of education.

Today, school choice models are promoted as “reforms” that will cure the so-called “failings” of schools. In reality, the nation’s failing schools are heavily concentrated in low-income neighborhoods with a high proportion of children of color who attend heavily under-resourced schools. Nevertheless, school choice is touted as a way of solving school problems without actually dealing with the real problems.

The nation now has more than a quarter-century’s experience and knowledge on the various types of school choice. The National Education Policy Center enlisted 18 of the nation’s scholars to examine various facets of school choice and tell us what the research says. From their forthcoming book, here’s a preview:

•Academic achievement: Setting aside the so-called “research” by groups advancing or opposing choice, the legitimate peer-reviewed research shows, in general, there isn’t any difference in test scores. There are good choice schools and bad ones. They are distributed in much the same way as traditional public schools. To be sure, politicians and advocates cherry-pick exemplary schools that fit their predilections. But if higher test scores is the objective, school choice is not a very effective way of getting there.

•Integration and segregation: School choice systems segregate by race and by income. There are two Vermont studies that confirm the national pattern. This is a dangerous direction for a nation already demonstrating the greatest wealth segregation of any developed country. Schools are the one remaining institution that melds all elements of society. In an increasingly cyber-fragmented world with big business loyal to their international bottom line, holding our culture together becomes more difficult, more critical – and more important.

•Educational innovation: A common sound-bite is that schools have to be more innovative in the 21st century. However, schools of choice are no more innovative than traditional schools. The reason is that parents, as a group, want traditional schools that embrace traditional values. The paradox is the cyberworld is coming but parents and communities also want conservators of fundamental values.

•Centralization and school closing effects: “Money follows the child” means that when a child chooses another town’s school, then the home town must pay the tuition. This can have a devastating effect on small schools, taxpayers and smaller villages. Parents tend to choose the bigger town where Mom or Dad works — which solves the huge Vermont transportation problem. (As one researcher wryly noted, “School choice exists for those who can get there.”) Small schools are more economically fragile and the loss of only a few students could be the tipping point. Taxpayers must maintain their local school as well as pay tuition, or close the village school. Parent and town involvement suffers as students become part of some more distant and larger school.

•Financial effects: If “money follows the child,” there has to be limits on the amount the state pays. The problem arises when parents take the funding allocation as a subsidy for an expensive private school. This is not an option for less affluent parents. It is exactly this kind of partially funded voucher system that led to huge inequities and resulted in riots in Chile.

Although not seen in Vermont as yet, a cautionary tale is playing out on the national stage. Charter management organizations have taken over a number of schools, cut the number of teachers, reduced salaries, hired less qualified teachers and increased the money pocketed by the big business owners. Students are “enrolled” who can’t be found when the auditors came around. The phantom student problem is acute for cyber-education. In a high profile case, K-12 Inc is currently being sued for “deceptive recruiting” practices. These raise complex auditing and legal questions.

On first examination, school choice schemes appear as an appealing exercise in personal freedom. In many cases, a different school, a new opportunity or a special program may make this the wise and correct decision for an individual student. Such alternative adjustments must be part of all public schools. When sweeping choice schemes are contemplated, however, an array of issues are raised that can inadvertently change the entire nature and purpose of education, and thus society – and not always for the common good.

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Bill Duncan,
Dec 7, 2011, 9:34 AM