Frequently Asked Questions About School Choice (page 2)
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.
Absolutely not! No state or city with school choice has seen its public school budgets go down. When Milwaukee's school choice program was founded in 1990-91, its public schools spent $6,316 per student; by 2003-04 that had risen to $10,375. Cleveland's
public school spending rose from $6,616 in 1996-97, when its choice program began, to $10,420 in 2003-04. And these fi gures include only the portion of school budgets known as "current expenditures"; figures for total education spending would be even higher.
Why have cities with school choice seen such large increases in per-student spending? Believe it or not, school choice is one of the reasons. The claim that choice drains money may sound plausible; schools are funded on a per-student basis, so fewer students means less money. But a growing body of research fi nds exactly the opposite: school choice programs actually improve public school financing. school choice gives the public school system more money to educate each student.
The amount of money spent on the voucher or scholarship for each participant in a school choice program is less than what would have been spent on that student if he or she had remained in public schools. That means states save money that can be plowed back into their education budgets and spent on the students who remain in public schools:
- While the average public school spends about $10,000 per student, the average private school charges about $5,000 in tuition. That's the fundamental reason school choice saves money – private schools do a better job at about half the cost.
- A 2006 joint Friedman Foundation/Cato Institute study finds that Washington D.C.'s voucher program saves the city over $250,000 due to the greater efficiency of school choice.
- A 2005 joint Friedman Foundation/Goldwater Institute study finds that Arizona spends between $8,500 and $9,000 on each student in public schools, but students using tax-funded scholarships receive only $3,500 to $4,500. The authors project total savings of $32 million if 5 percent of Arizona students used scholarships.
- A 2005 Friedman Foundation study of a proposed voucher program in Minneapolis finds that the city's public schools spend $13,600 per student. Since the voucher program would cost only $4,600 per student, the potential savings would be quite large – more than $16 million annually.
- A 2005 joint Friedman Foundation/Maryland Public Policy Institute study of a proposed voucher program in Baltimore finds that even a hefty $7,000 voucher still would save public schools money, since the city spends $8,900 on each public school student. Annual savings would total $9 million for every 1,000 enrollees.
- Facing numbers like this, the teacher unions usually retort that they don't account for fixed costs. If a student leaves a public school, that school still has to spend some of the money it did before to cover costs that don't vary much with enrollment levels, such as building maintenance. But studies show that schools' fixed costs aren't big enough to offset the huge savings from school choice:
- A 2005 Clemson University study finds that, even after accounting for fixed costs, a proposed voucher program for South Carolina (offering $4,000 to $4,600, compared to public spending of $8,300) would save $594 million over its fi rst fi ve years.
- A 2004 Utah State University study fi nds that a proposed school choice program in Utah would save between $26 million and $144 million every year, even after schools' fi xed costs were taken into account.
- A 2005 Friedman Foundation study finds that tax-funded scholarships in New Mexico would save $63 million over 10 years.
- A 2004 joint Friedman Foundation/Josiah Bartlett Center study finds that a proposed voucher program in New Hampshire would save $9 million annually.
Conclusion: School choice programs do not drain money from public schools. Actually, they leave more money behind to educate fewer students. No state or city with school choice has seen its public school budgets go down.
A large body of evidence says yes. If all schools compete for students, public schools will not be able to take students for granted, as they do now; they will
have to improve to prevent students from walking out the door. In practice, it is becoming clear that this is exactly what is happening. Not one empirical study
has ever found that outcomes at U.S. public schools got worse when exposed to school choice, and numerous studies have found that they improve.
A 2004 study by Jay Greene and Marcus Winters of the Manhattan Institute, published in the journal Education Next, found that:
- Low-performing schools facing the threat of vouchers made significantly greater test-score gains than similarly low-performing schools not facing the voucher threat.
- The closer a school was to having vouchers offered to its students, the more dramatic the gains.
- Schools already facing competition from vouchers showed the biggest improvements, outpacing other Florida schools by a full 15 points.
A study by Rajashri Chakrabarti of Cornell, published in the same issue of that journal, found that schools given F grades under the A+ system made greater-than average gains, while schools given F grades under Florida's earlier system (which had no vouchers or other accountability sanctions) made no gains relative to other Florida schools.
In a 2001 study, Caroline Hoxby of Harvard found that public schools more exposed to voucher competition had test-score gains over a three-year period that outpaced other public schools by 10.2 percentile points in math, 9.3 points in language, 16.2 points in science and 8.1 points in social studies. A 2003 Manhattan Institute study found that fourth-grade test-score gains were much bigger in schools in which more students were eligible for vouchers, such that a school with 100 percent of students eligible would have test-score gains 15 points higher than a school with only 50 percent eligible.
A 2003 Manhattan Institute study by Jay Greene and Greg Forster found that a San Antonio school district facing competition from a privately funded voucher program outperformed 85 percent of Texas districts in its achievement gains.
Maine and Vermont
A 2002 Friedman Foundation study by Christopher Hammons found that tuitioning introduces healthy competitive incentives that improve public schools:
- Public high schools closer to tuitioning towns had better test scores than other public high schools, controlling for school spending and student demographics.
- The effect is large enough that if a town a mile away from a school decided to tuition its students, we would expect the percentage of students passing the state test at that school to increase by 3.4 points – a gain of 12 percent over existing scores.
- If a state wanted to purchase the same test score gains by increasing per pupil spending, it would have to spend an extra $909 per student.
A large body of studies on residential choice confi rms the positive effects from school competition. Public schools perform better in cities with a large number of small school districts, where it is easier for people to choose the district in which they will live. A 2002 review of all the available research by two professors at Columbia's Teachers College found that the evidence strongly supports a positive effect from school competition caused by residential choice; this has been further confi rmed by recent studies conducted by Harvard's Caroline Hoxby and the Manhattan Institute's Jay Greene and Marcus Winters.
Conclusion: A large body of studies shows that competition from school choice improves public schools. No empirical study has ever found that school choice hurts public-school outcomes.
Reprinted with the permission of the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice.
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