College & Workforce Readiness

Voucher Advocacy Shifting Focus, Report Says

By Christina A. Samuels — July 27, 2011 4 min read

Voucher proponents have shifted their advocacy efforts from extolling the academic achievement of voucher participants to focusing on the value of school choice as a virtue in itself, according to a report from the Center on Education Policy, in Washington.

The education research and advocacy group reviewed and synthesized a selection of a decade’s worth of research and policy moves in vouchers and school choice for the report, released today. In it, the researchers note that studies generally have shown that vouchers have “no clear positive impact” on student academic achievement and mixed results overall. In response to those studies, the CEP suggests, voucher advocates have started talking more about other perceived benefits of vouchers, including more parental choice and satisfaction, and higher graduation rates.

“It’s not to say that people don’t make an achievement argument, but we found more emphasis on some of these other areas, such as choice as a right and value in itself,” said Nancy Kober, a consultant to the CEP and a co-author of the report, called “Keeping Informed about School Vouchers: A Review of Major Developments and Research.”

But organizations that support vouchers criticized the CEP review, suggesting that the authors chose which studies they wanted to review and shaded responses to make academic achievement of voucher recipients look weaker than it really is.

The CEP does not have an official view on vouchers, Ms. Kober said. However, the organization wants lawmakers to have the latest information before considering such policies, particularly in light of the revenue shortfalls that many states are experiencing.

“What is the best use of public tax dollars when about 90 percent of students in the U.S. go to public schools?” Ms. Kober asked. “When you have limited money, what’s the best use of that money to reform the schools where most of the children will be? That’s a critical question for the state legislatures to be looking at.”

Publicly Funded Programs

Publicly funded school vouchers allow parents to receive money from the government that they can then use to pay tuition at a private school of their choice. The CEP review focused on those programs. It did not examine studies of privately funded vouchers; tax credits to families or corporations for payments made for children’s private school tuition, such as in Arizona; or voucher programs intended solely for students with disabilities or students in foster care.

After reviewing 27 studies, the researchers found some general trends:

• Several recent studies show gains in achievement are about the same for low-income students receiving vouchers as they are for comparable public school students. For example, students in grades 3-8 who participated in the Milwaukee voucher program had rates of achievement growth over three years that were similar to those of a random sample of Milwaukee public school students with similar characteristics.

• Voucher programs are moving beyond their traditional base of serving low-income students to broader-based programs that would be available to middle-class families, such as new programs in Indiana and Douglas County, Colo.

• Many of the studies that have been done on vouchers have been conducted or sponsored by groups that support that particular educational reform effort, such as the Foundation for Educational Choice, based in Indianapolis, and School Choice Wisconsin, located in Milwaukee. Ms. Kober hypothesized that other groups may be turning their attention to different public school reform issues.

Groups that support vouchers are fully capable of conducting rigorous research, Ms. Kober said. However, those studies should be peer-reviewed and the funding sources made clear, she said.

The report also noted that some research found that voucher students graduate at a higher rate than their public school peers, and that overall achievement at public schools was higher in those schools most affected by voucher competition. However, the report said it is difficult to tease out causation in those results, because schools most affected by vouchers often are targeted for other intensive school reform efforts.

Surveys of voucher recipients showed they are generally quite happy with their choice, the report noted.

Some studies included in the group’s report have shown that vouchers reduce costs for some taxpayers, but by shifting the costs to another level of government.

Report Criticized

Both the report’s methodology and its conclusions came in for criticism from voucher advocacy groups.

“CEP’s study narrowly cherry-picks school choice studies in a handful of states and inaccurately characterizes the results of these studies,” said Andrew Campanella, a spokesman for the American Federation for Children, a leading voucher advocacy program based in Washington. He said the study ignores voucher programs, like those for students with disabilities, and discounts the credibility of research into school voucher programs in Wisconsin and the District of Columbia.

Greg Forster, a senior fellow with the Foundation for Educational Choice, said the CEP review is written to make it sound as if the results of a handful of studies can be used to draw broad conclusions. And the review also offers no definition of what would be a “strong” effect of voucher programs.

His organization has conducted its own analysis of empirical research into voucher programs and found that the benefits from such program are sometimes large, but usually modest in size. No studies have found a negative effect on voucher recipients, Mr. Forster said. If the benefits shown thus far are modest, that is a reflection of small programs that have limited numbers of students participating.

“We should aim for something higher, but we should not demand miracles of small, restricted programs,” Mr. Forster said. “When the small, restricted programs produce moderately positive results, that indicates we should be trying bigger things.”

A version of this article appeared in the August 10, 2011 edition of Education Week as Voucher Advocacy Shifting Focus, Report Says

Events

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
School & District Management Webinar
Making Digital Literacy a Priority: An Administrator’s Perspective
Join us as we delve into the efforts of our panelists and their initiatives to make digital skills a “must have” for their district. We’ll discuss with district leadership how they have kept digital literacy
Content provided by Learning.com
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
School & District Management Webinar
How Schools Can Implement Safe In-Person Learning
In order for in-person schooling to resume, it will be necessary to instill a sense of confidence that it is safe to return. BD is hosting a virtual panel discussing the benefits of asymptomatic screening
Content provided by BD
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 Districts Are Centering Relationships and Systemic SEL for Back to School 21-22
As educators and leaders consider how SEL fits into their reopening and back-to-school plans, it must go beyond an SEL curriculum. SEL is part of who we are as educators and students, as well as
Content provided by Panorama Education

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

College & Workforce Readiness Fewer Students in Class of 2020 Went Straight to College
First-year college enrollment dropped steeply last year, a study finds, and the declines were sharpest among poorer students.
6 min read
Image shows University Application Acceptance Notification Letter with ACCEPTED Stamp
YinYang/Getty
College & Workforce Readiness Letter to the Editor Are Students Ready for Post-Pandemic Reality?
Schools must make improving students' essential skills a priority for college and career success, says the CEO and president of CAE.
1 min read
College & Workforce Readiness This Is Not a Good Time to Fall Off the College Track. Students Are Doing It Anyway
Fewer students in the Class of 2021 are applying for college financial aid, continuing a drop that started last year.
6 min read
Applications for the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) form are on the decline.
Applications for the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) form are on the decline.
Jon Elswick/AP
College & Workforce Readiness Student Interest in Health-Care Careers Takes Off During Pandemic
The coronavirus crisis is boosting a trend toward health-care and medical pathways. The challenge is getting students hands-on training.
7 min read
Nurse giving man injection
Getty