School & District Management

Study: Vouchers Linked to College-Going for Black Students

By Jaclyn Zubrzycki — August 28, 2012 | Corrected: February 21, 2019 4 min read

Corrected: An earlier version of this story inaccurately paraphrases Christopher Lubienski’s description of the 7.1 percentage-point gain in college enrollment seen among one group of students in the voucher study. That gain was found for the entire group of students who received an offer of a voucher, regardless of whether they used it or not.

Receiving a voucher to attend a private school in New York City did not increase the likelihood of attending college for most students, but did lead to higher college-going rates for black students, a study of participants in a privately funded scholarship program concludes.

Forty-two percent of the 1,363 students who received vouchers through the New York School Choice Scholarship Fund, and 42 percent of those who applied for but did not receive the tuition aid, had enrolled in college within three years of their expected high school graduation date, according to the study, which was presented last week at the Washington-based Brookings Institution. It was co-written by Paul E. Peterson, a professor of government and the director of Harvard University’s Program on Education Policy and Governance, and Matthew M. Chingos, a fellow at Brookings’ Brown Center on Education Policy.

But African-American students who used the vouchers to attend private schools were 8.7 percentage points, or 24 percent, more likely to attend college, and were twice as likely to attend a selective private university as their peers who were not winners in the voucher lottery.

“This is consistent with evidence from other voucher programs ... and shows that vouchers are an effective intervention,” said Michael J. Petrilli, the executive vice president of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, a Washington think tank that favors parental-choice-based schooling options.

But vouchers are a highly politicized topic, and some researchers and advocates disputed how much could be extrapolated from the results.

“While it provides some information, it really lacks the depth to generalize to a bigger population,” said Jim A. Hull, a policy analyst with the Alexandria, Va.-based National School Boards Association’s Center for Public Education, which opposes school vouchers. “The rhetoric doesn’t necessarily match the findings.”

There is no longer such a voucher program in New York City, but five states offer low-income students vouchers to help defray tuition costs at private schools, and several others offer similar programs for students with special needs, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

Effects for Some

The study tracks 2,642 New York City students entering elementary school in 1997 who applied for vouchers from the scholarship fund. The NYSCSF provided tuition aid of up to $1,400 for low-income students to attend any participating private school, most of which were Roman Catholic. Approximately half the students received scholarships, and 78 percent of the scholarship winners used them to attend private school for at least one year. The vouchers were distributed to students by lottery, allowing researchers to compare students from families that were similarly motivated for their children to succeed in school.

The researchers used college-enrollment data from the National Student Clearinghouse to track participants’ educational attainment after high school. The rate of college enrollment of Hispanic students was unaffected by whether or not those students had received a voucher—45 percent attended college either way. On the other hand, African-American students were more likely than peers who had failed to win a voucher to enroll in college (42 percent compared with 36 percent) and twice as likely to enroll in a selective private university (7 percent versus 3 percent).

The authors speculate that Hispanic families may have been more likely to be interested in vouchers for religious reasons in addition to dissatisfaction with their current schooling options. The black parents were less likely than those of Hispanic students to be Catholic, and indicated less satisfaction with their other schooling options.

“Choice makes a bigger difference when students’ options without additional choices look bleak,” said Jay P. Greene, who chairs the education reform department at the College of Education and Health Professions at the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville.

Christopher Lubienski, an associate professor of education policy, organization, and leadership at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, noted that the impact of actually using a voucher was not much greater than the effect of being offered one. The study shows that being offered a voucher increased the college-enrollment rate by 7.1 percentage points, suggesting that the 8.7 percentage point gain from actually using the voucher to attend private school caused only a 1.6 percentage point increase more than being offered a voucher, Mr. Lubienski said. “I’m very much in doubt that this [1.6 percentage point increase] is statistically significant,” Mr. Lubienski said.

While the authors touted the results for black students as evidence of a positive impact on the “most disadvantaged,” Mr. Greene said it is unclear whether the most disadvantaged students were represented. Since the scholarships did not cover full tuition at most schools, which averaged $1,728 in New York City Catholic schools at the time, parents who could not pay at all may not have applied.

Voucher programs seem to have a stronger impact on students’ educational attainment than on their performance on standardized tests, said the Fordham Institute’s Mr. Petrilli. “What you really care about is how kids do in the real world,” he said, adding that Catholic schools may be more effective at teaching students certain character traits, like grit, that lead to future success.

Mr. Chingos said his research team would likely look at whether the same set of students actually graduated from college later.

A version of this article appeared in the August 29, 2012 edition of Education Week as Study: Vouchers Linked to College-Going for Black Students

Events

Student Well-Being Webinar Boosting Teacher and Student Motivation During the Pandemic: What It Takes
Join Alyson Klein and her expert guests for practical tips and discussion on how to keep students and teachers motivated as the pandemic drags on.
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Student Well-Being Webinar
A Holistic Approach to Social-Emotional Learning
Register to learn about the components and benefits of holistically implemented SEL.
Content provided by Committee for Children
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Student Well-Being Webinar
How Principals Can Support Student Well-Being During COVID
Join this webinar for tips on how to support and prioritize student health and well-being during COVID.
Content provided by Unruly Studios

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Washington Data Processing Representative - (WAVA)
Tacoma, Washington, United States
K12 Inc.
Software Engineer
Portland, OR, US
Northwest Evaluation Association
Proposal Writer
Portland, OR, US
Northwest Evaluation Association
CCLC Program Site Director
Thornton, CO, US
Adams 12 Five Star Schools

Read Next

School & District Management San Francisco School Board Pauses Renaming 44 Schools, Promises to Consult Historians
The renaming of 44 schools in the San Francisco Unified School District is apparently being put on hold after intense blowback.
Greg Keraghosian
1 min read
A pedestrian walks below a sign for Dianne Feinstein Elementary School in San Francisco, on Dec. 17, 2020. The San Francisco Unified School District put the renaming of 44 schools, including Dianne Feinstein Elementary School, on hold after local and national blowback.
A pedestrian walks below a sign for Dianne Feinstein Elementary School in San Francisco, on Dec. 17, 2020. The San Francisco Unified School District put the renaming of 44 schools, including Dianne Feinstein Elementary School, on hold after local and national blowback.<br/><br/>
Jeff Chiu/AP
School & District Management Superintendent Who Led During COVID-19 School Shutdowns Gets Top Honors
Michelle Reid of Washington state's Northshore district, one of the very first to close schools last March, was named National Superintendent of the Year.
3 min read
Michelle Reid, superintendent of the Northshore district in Washington
Michelle Reid, the superintendent of the Northshore district in Washington, was named National Superintendent of the Year.
courtesy of AASA, the School Superintendents Association
School & District Management Is Lunchtime the 'Weak Link' in School Reopening Plans?
It's risky when students are inside and unmasked, experts say. Here are five ways to mitigate that risk and make in-school meals safer.
11 min read
Elementary students in Brownsville, Texas, eat a socially distanced lunch in the school cafeteria. Experts say there are ways to mitigate the risk of contracting COVID-19 even when kids take their masks off to eat.
Elementary students in Brownsville, Texas, eat a socially distanced lunch in the school cafeteria. Experts say there are ways to mitigate the risk of contracting COVID-19 when kids take their masks off to eat.
Denise Cathey/The Brownsville Herald via AP
School & District Management Los Angeles Unified Shrinks Police Budget. Money Will Support Black Student Achievement
The board overseeing the Los Angeles Unified School District has cut $25 million from the budget for school police and will use the money to help fund an achievement plan for Black students.
1 min read
Demonstrators holds signs during a protest to demand the defunding of the Los Angeles school district police outside of the school board headquarters on June 23, 2020, in Los Angeles.
Demonstrators holds signs during a protest to demand the defunding of the Los Angeles school district police outside of the school board headquarters on June 23, 2020, in Los Angeles.
Marcio Jose Sanchez/AP