Students in Cleveland who use state-financed vouchers to attend private schools performed slightly better than their public school peers after their first three years of school, according to a study released last week.
The gap in performance was the largest in the fall of 1st grade, and the public school students had all but eliminated that gap by the end of the 2nd grade, the report issued by the Ohio Department of Education says. The findings are part of an ongoing evaluation of 2,600 children who entered kindergarten in 1998.
A summary report of the “Cleveland Scholarship Program Evaluation,” as well as an executive summary and a technical report, is available from the Ohio Department of Education. (Requires Adobe’s Acrobat Reader.)
“While there is some divergence at the end of 2nd grade, the vast majority of the differences are not statistically significant,” said Kim Metcalf, the director of the Indiana Center for Evaluation at Indiana University in Bloomington, which conducted the study.
“The important thing now,” he added, “is to determine if those slight divergences are the beginning of trends.”
Nearly 4,000 Cleveland students receive the tuition vouchers to attend private or religious schools. Last December, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit found the program unconstitutional, but it remains in place for now. (“Appeals Court Rejects Cleveland Voucher Program,” Dec. 13, 2001.)
The U.S. Supreme Court is expected to decide this fall whether it will hear the case.
Meanwhile, groups on both sides of the issue jumped on the new findings.
“By the end of 2nd grade, they’re all in about the same place,” said Tom Mooney, a voucher foe and the president of the Ohio Federation of Teachers. “As a taxpayer, it’s clear the $6 million going to the program isn’t buying anything worth having.”
Voucher proponents saw it differently. “The findings should surprise no one with any grounding in the real world,” said Clint Bolick, the litigation director of the Institute for Justice, the Washington group that represents Cleveland voucher families in the court case. “Giving parents choice options increases the odds of academic success.”