Frequently Asked Questions About School Choice
Absolutely! Seven studies using random assignment, the gold standard for social science, have found statistically significant gains in academic achievement from vouchers, and no study has ever found negative effects. Random-assignment methods allow researchers to isolate the effects of vouchers from other student characteristics. Students who applied for vouchers were entered into random lotteries to determine who would receive the voucher and who would remain in public schools; this allowed researchers to track very similar treatment" and "control" groups, just like in medical trials. Other research establishes positive academic effects from vouchers as well.
Milwaukee has been studied twice with top quality random-assignment methods:
- A 1998 Harvard study found that after four years of participation, voucher students gained 11 points in math and six points in reading compared to the control group.
- Another 1998 study by Cecilia Rouse of Princeton found that voucher students improved more than the control group by eight points in math over four years.
- In a 2004 study, Jay Greene of the Manhattan Institute found that vouchers improve graduation rates:
- In the graduating class of 2003, private schools participating in the voucher program had a graduation rate of 64 percent, while Milwaukee's public high schools had a graduation rate of 36 percent.
- Even at academically selective Milwaukee public schools, the graduation rate was only 41 percent, still well below the rate for schools participating in the voucher program.
A 2003 Manhattan Institute study by Jay Greene and Greg Forster found that:
- 93 percent of McKay participants are satisfi ed with their McKay schools, while only 33 percent were similarly satisfi ed with their public schools.
- Only 30 percent of current participants say they received all services required under federal law from their previous public schools, while 86 percent say their McKay schools provide all the services they promised to provide.
- 47 percent of participants were bothered often and 25 percent were physically assaulted at their previous public schools because of their disabilities, compared to 5 percent bothered often and 6 percent assaulted in McKay schools.
- More than 90 percent of former McKay participants who have left the program said the McKay program should continue to be available for those who wish to use it.
A privately funded voucher program in New York has been studied twice with top quality random-assignment methods:
- A 2002 Harvard study found that, after three years, African-American voucher students improved 9.2 percentile points more than the control group in combined reading and math scores.
- A 2003 study by four researchers from Harvard, Columbia and Johns Hopkins universities found that after only one year in the program voucher students improved 4.7 percentile points more than the control group in math.
A 2002 Harvard study using random-assignment methods found that, after three years, African-American voucher students receiving a privately funded voucher improved 6.5 percentile points more than the control group in combined reading and math scores.
A 2001 study by Jay Greene of the Manhattan Institute using random-assignment methods found that, after only one year, students receiving a privately funded voucher improved six percentile points more than the control group in combined reading and math scores.
Conclusion: A large number of high-quality studies show that vouchers improve academic achievement. No empirical study has ever found that vouchers hurt academic achievement.
Reprinted with the permission of the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice.
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