Archive for the ‘Voucher Programs’ Category

New Book Featured in WP Blog

Friday, June 3rd, 2011

Earlier this week, Jay Mathews, an education columnist for the Washington Post, wrote about our latest book, School Choice and School Improvement, in his blog, Class Struggle.  In School choice debate vs. reality, Mathews points out that education and reform in particular is often an emotional debate in which people argue their beliefs whether or not there is a research base to support them.  In the post, Mathews summarizes some of the findings presented in the book, such as the effectiveness of vouchers in D.C. and the effects of charter competition on nearby traditional public schools.  Mathews recognizes that while a person’s opinion may drive the discussion, research should also play an important role understanding what works in education.

Renewed Interest in Vouchers Nationwide

Friday, May 6th, 2011

On May 5th, an Indiana bill was signed into law creating a private school voucher program statewide.  The Indiana program is unique in that it includes both a voucher component and a tax deduction, which is different from a voucher but is seen to accomplish many of the same goals, of $1,000 for each child in private or home school.  School vouchers are payments, usually to parents, from private or public tax funds to pay for a child’s education expenses, usually in a private school.  Indiana is just the most recent example of states proposing and/or amending tuition voucher legislation.

Voucher legislation has experienced a resurgence recently.  If you follow this blog, you may have read the post in February about the proposed vouchers in an affluent Colorado district.  Voucher bills are currently being considered or have been passed over the past few months in multiple states including Pennsylvania, Florida, Tennessee, and Wisconsin.  Much of this renewed interest came on the heels of a Supreme Court decision.  Earlier this year, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld Arizona’s tuition tax credit for parents paying tuition for their children to attend private school.  In this case, the Supreme Court ruled that a government tax credit, that may benefit religious schools, is different than government spending to support religious schools.

Voucher bills differ greatly by state.  Most are limited to low-income families or students with disabilities.  Some of the more well-known existing programs have received renewed funding or are undergoing various changes.   The D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program will continue to be funded by the federal government as part of the budget compromise passed in April.  The Wisconsin legislature is considering a bill to expand the Milwaukee voucher program statewide.  More information on research into the impacts of school choice in Milwaukee conducted by the Choice Center is available from the project page, Impact of Choice and Competition in Milwaukee.

With all the current interest, what is known about the impacts of vouchers?   The Choice Center has three projects that looked at the impacts of vouchers (see additional links below).  Overall, the studies found that, like in most other types of school choice, context matters.  Check out the research project links below to learn more!

Advanced Analyses of Randomized School Voucher Experiments

Competitive Effects of Vouchers (Florida)

Vouchers Proposed in Affluent CO District

Wednesday, February 16th, 2011

Vouchers are a way of expanding school choice, usually for low-income students and/or students in low performing schools.  However, a new voucher system is under consideration by the Douglas County School Board in Colorado, which seems like an unlikely place for a voucher plan.  Douglas County is an affluent suburb of Denver, with only 8% of students qualifying for free or reduced lunch, as well as high test scores and graduation rates.

The idea came from a task force convened to recommend improvements to the school board, one of which was vouchers.  The Los Angeles Times recently featured an article highlighting the issue, “Colorado school district has wealth, success – and an eye on vouchers”.  As the Douglas County School Board considers a new program that could potentially expand the population of eligible students and change the way voucher programs are designed, it is important to consider what the research says about previous voucher programs.

Check out some of the voucher research by the Choice Center:

School Choice Week – Student Composition and Peers

Friday, January 28th, 2011

As National School Choice Week draws to a close, the final topic of the week is student composition and peer effects.  One of the points often made by opponents of school choice is that the student body of schools of choice has a different make-up than traditional public schools in the area.  Peer effects, the impact of other students at a school on a student’s achievement, should also be considered when examining the effects of school choice on student composition. So, what does the research tell us about these topics?

One concern raised about charter schools has been that they will take the best students and cause traditional public schools to retain the lower-performing students making it harder for them to improve.  This perception is examined in Do Charter Schools “Cream Skim” Students and Increase Racial-Ethnic Segregation? by following students as they moved to charter schools in seven sites around the country.  Similar concerns about vouchers are explored in Do Vouchers Lead to Sorting Under Random Private School Selection? Evidence from the Milwaukee Voucher Program as well as how a voucher program could be designed to limit sorting by ability but students may still be sorted by parental self-selection.  Racial and ability sorting are not the only types of sorting to cause concern.  One that is often overlooked is sorting by gender.  The Gender Gap in  Charter School Attendance finds that charter schools enroll a significantly higher fraction of girls than boys.  The paper goes on to explore possible causes for this.  Sorting of any type may have consequences.  In Magnet Schools and Peers: Effects on Mathematics Achievement, Ballou uses the lottery outcomes for enrollment to measure the effects of peers and finds that peers race and parental income have a substantial impact on achievement.  Sorting  by race, socio-economic status or gender could have a real impact on the peer effects of a school and in turn student achievement.

Do not let the end of National School Choice Week be the end of your research.  Continue to use available research to inform your opinions, and potentially policies and advocacy, on school choice.  Check back often for updates on what is happening in the world of school choice and how it relates to the research done here by the National Center on School Choice.

For more information on racial/ethnic and ability sorting, check out these articles:

White Parents, Diversity and School Choice Policies: Where Good Intentions, Anxiety and Privilege Collide

Parental Choice in the Netherlands: Growing Concerns about Segregation

Charter Schools in North Carolina

School Choice Week – Parents and Choice

Tuesday, January 25th, 2011

As National School Choice Week continues, today’s focus is on parents.  How do parents make school decisions?  Why do they choose a specific school or school type?  How do parents gather information about school choice options and how do they use this information?  These are just a few questions that need to be considered when exploring school choice.

The actions and decision-making of parents is an important aspect to consider in the context of various types of school choice.   In a study of mayoral charter schools in Indianapolis, Stein surveyed parents about their reasons for choosing a charter school and then compared the responses to their revealed preferences shown by actual behavior.  The results of this research provide an important insight into the decision-making process of these parents.  Campbell, West and Peterson examine a voucher program and what factors caused parents to move their children to private schools.  How do parents use school quality ratings?  Henderson’s paper seeks to answer this question and finds that these ratings alone do not seem to cause parents to transfer their children but other factors may contribute.  As policymakers and other education stakeholders contemplate school choice, this and other research can inform decisions and design of school choice programs and policies.

Click here to see all our research about parents and school choice.

School Choice Week – Student Achievement

Monday, January 24th, 2011

January 23rd – 28th is School Choice Week.  During this focus on school choice, take some time and consider what research shows about the impacts of school choice.  Each day this week, this blog will highlight a different aspect of school choice research.

One of the biggest questions to consider when analyzing school choice is: What is the impact on student achievement?  This question spans various types of school choice including magnet schools, charters, and vouchers.  In New York City Charter Schools: Who attends them and how well are they teaching their students?, Hoxby and Murarka report that charter schools have a positive impact on the academic growth of their students.  In a study of charter schools in North Carolina, Bifulco and Ladd report that, on average, charter schools have had a negative impact on student achievement overall.  Another study of charters, this time in Idaho, found mixed results of the effects of charter schools, varying dependent on the type of analysis.  Witte, Cowen, Fleming, and Wolf examined the impact of the Milwaukee Parental Choice (Voucher) Program and found that although the voucher student panel achievement tended to be higher, it was not statistically significant.  In reviewing the literature on magnet schools, Ballou found that the results from studies of the effects on student achievement are also mixed.  This is just a sampling of the research papers available on our website that address student achievement and school choice.

All of these studies and more can be found be visiting the research page of our website!  Take some time this week to become more informed about the research findings concerning school choice!

Will School Choice Ride the Big Red Wave?

Monday, November 8th, 2010

One topic of interest to post-election pundits has been how key education issues will fare after last week’s state and congressional elections. Several news organizations suggest that the Republican sweep may give school choice new prominence in both Congress and state legislatures.

 The Washington Post writes that education reform provides a rare area for possible common ground between the Obama Administration and the new Republican Congress in part because both support charter schools. The Post discusses odds of whether the new Congress will have much appetite for reauthorizing – or revising – No Child Left Behind, with its provisions for charter school options.The newspaper also notes that Race to the Top, the administration’s school reform grant competition that favors charter school expansion, awarded an early, large grant to Tennessee, home state of Lamar Alexander, a leading Republican on the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee.

 Fox News  lists school choice as one of several issues the new Congress might be eager to embrace, building on buzz from the film “Waiting for Superman.” Charter schools are already well established and expanding in many states, but Fox predicts that vouchers will enjoy a resurgence of support among congressional Republicans.

 The Dallas Morning News speculates that the new, more-Republican-than-ever Texas House and Senate may be emboldened to push for issues that have failed in recent years such as allowing school vouchers and lifting the state’s cap on the number of charter schools. Whichever programs gain traction will have to be inexpensive or financed through fees because the state faces a shortfall for the next biennium that could exceed $24 billion.


Check out these publications from the NCSC archives for more information on the politics of charter school laws, No Child Left Behind, and public opinion on school reform.

The Persuadable Public: The 2009 Education Next-PEPG Survey asks if information changes minds

School choice agenda setting: A national analysis of individual state legislators

Responses to No Child Left Behind among Traditional Public Schools and Public Charter Schools

Editors’ Preface, Special Issue on Policy, Politics, and Organization of School Choice

Asking the Right Questions about School Choice

Thursday, September 30th, 2010

This is an interesting time in the world of school choice. On the one hand, there’s a growing body of research examining the effectiveness of choice, most often comparing achievement in charter schools or voucher plans to traditional public schools. But the lack of consensus among some prominent studies has left many in the public confused. Add to that recent expressions of disillusionment by early choice advocates such as Diane Ravitch and debates about  the success of school choice become even more complicated.

One long-time choice advocate is taking a stab at explaining the sources of disillusionment and suggesting different ways to frame the debate. In a new essay and blog post, both entitled “Does School Choice ‘Work’?”, Rick Hess, writes that, for starters, whether choice “works” is the wrong question. Framing the question that way, he says, creates expectations that charter schools or voucher programs have the power to quickly raise test scores and cure problems across the wide range of American schools.  Instead, Hess, who is director of educational-policy studies at the American Enterprise Institute, advocates focusing on larger organizational issues, such as whether the creation of school choice has brought market forces to education. Has it, for example, introduced innovations and competition that have forced public schools to change and diminished the power of their bureaucracies?   “The key,” he writes on the Education Week blog,“is to stop fixating on ‘choice’ and start talking about ‘deregulation’.” The post is based on a longer essay on the National Affairs site that explains his opinions more fully.

Hess also tosses a few barbs at some of his fellow choice advocates, arguing that part of any current disappointment can be traced back to overpromises by early choice advocates, citing particularly John Chubb and Terry Moe who use of the word “panacea” in their influential book Politics, Markets and America’s Schools. “The search for that panacea, and the insistence that it must be just around the corner, have been destructive distractions,” Hess writes, because they have led to narrow judgments of success based on test scores and ignored bigger questions about how market forces play out in a domain shaped by large public bureaucracies. “Since reformers have suggested that the mere presence of choice will bring about dramatic improvement in schools, the expectation has been that the simple fact of having an alternative — even inadequately funded vouchers, or charter schools hog-tied by regulation — should yield demonstrable gains in academic achievement,” he writes. In this environment, he challenges reformers and researchers to shift the focus to what market forces should look like in American K-12 education, the extent to which these forces exist at this point, and how their success should be assessed. “The questions to focus on are when, how, and why deregulation and monopoly-busting improve the quality and cost effectiveness of goods and services,” he writes, “and whether they can do the same for K-12 schooling.”


One hallmark of the National Center on School Choice’s research has been a mission to investigate the effects of choice within broader contexts. Some examples:

Race to the Top, Education Reform and Public Opinion

Wednesday, August 25th, 2010

Several states that recently revised their charter school laws were among the 10 newest Race to the Top winners announced in the $4.35 billion grants competition, which favors charter school expansion among other reform initiatives. But despite the financial infusions offered to cash-starved states, the Obama Administration’s centerpiece education program earned less-than-overwhelming public approval in a new national poll just released by NCSC partners at Harvard. The poll also shows a sharp decline in popular support for school vouchers in recent years and continued support for charter schools, particularly among African Americans and Latinos.  

Race to the Top is designed to encourage an array of education strategies endorsed by the federal government. While friendlier charter school policies appear to have been a plus in the latest round, they did not guarantee success. At least four winning states – Hawaii, Massachusetts, New York and Rhode Island – pushed through laws to allow more charter schools this year in sometimes bruising legislative sessions. And Kentucky did not make the final cut after failing to pass a bill this year that would have allowed charters for the first time. But Louisiana was not chosen in this round of winners despite the rapid expansion of charter schools in New Orleans. Other strategies rewarded by the program include adopting higher academic standards and improved testing, basing teacher and principal evaluations on student achievement growth, targeting failing schools for turnaround, upgrading and expanding the use of data systems to improve academics and gaining signoff on plans from many stakeholders, including teachers unions, which have resisted some measures endorsed by the administration. Other winners in the second round are the District of Columbia, Florida, Georgia, Maryland and Ohio. The 10 winners will receive grants ranging from $75 million to $700 million. They join Delaware and Tennessee, the only two winners in the first round.

Race to the Top did garner more positive than negative reactions in the new opinion poll, conducted by the Program on Education Policy and Governance at Harvard and Education Next journal. Thirty-two percent of respondents said they considered the program “necessary to improve school quality” while 22 percent opposed it, saying it was an “unwarranted intrusion into state and local government.” However, almost half of respondents – 46 percent — expressed no opinion, despite the program’s fairly high exposure in the popular press. The poll was conducted in May and June.

 The poll asked about many education issues, including some high-profile reforms. The decline in support for vouchers was striking. Approval dropped from 45 percent in 2007 to 31 percent this year, while disapproval grew from 34 percent to 43 percent. Support for charter schools, in contrast, rose from 42 percent in 2008 to 44 percent this year, while disapproval increased from 16 percent to 19 percent. Among black respondents, however, approval for charters rose from 42 percent to 64 percent and among Hispanics it rose from 37 percent to 47 percent.

 One interesting detail about the poll, which covers a wide range of education issues, was that teachers disagreed with the general public on several issues. For example, teachers were less likely than the general public to support charter schools and their approval dropped from 47 to 39 percent since 2008. Similarly only 22 percent of teachers supported Race to the Top, while 46 percent opposed it. Teachers also disagreed with other respondents on merit pay. Support in the general public for “basing a teacher’s salary, in part, on his or her students’ academic progress on state tests” rose from 44 percent in 2007 to 49 percent in 2010 and opposition dropped from 32 to 25 percent. Among teachers, however, 63 percent opposed merit pay while only 24 percent supported it. 

Read stories about Race to the Top in The New York Times and Education Week.


Read about the PEPG/Education Next poll in previous years.

The Persuadable Public: The 2009 Education Next-PEPG Survey asks if information changes minds

The 2008 Education Next – PEPG Survey of Public Opinion

What Americans Think about Their Schools: The 2007 Education Next—PEPG Survey

D.C. Voucher Program Raises Graduation Odds

Wednesday, June 23rd, 2010

 Washington, D.C., students who won vouchers to attend private schools under a federally funded program were more likely overall to graduate from high school than students who applied for a voucher but did not win one in a lottery, according to a new report on research into the DC Opportunity Scholarship Program (OSP).

 The study also looked at student achievement, but the findings were less conclusive. Overall, standardized test scores in both reading and mathematics were not statistically significantly different for students who won vouchers and those who did not. The program did appear to boost achievement for some students, however. Voucher winners in certain subgroups – girls, students with higher academic performance before the program, and those who did not come from schools deemed in need of improvement under No Child Left Behind – had significantly higher reading scores. No statistically significant differences were found in math.

 The report is the sixth and final annual evaluation of the program conducted by a team of researchers led by scholars at the University of Arkansas. The OSP was created by Congress in 2004 to give low-income students a chance “to attend higher performing schools” by providing vouchers worth up to $7,500 to cover tuition, fees, and transportation costs. If too many students applied, voucher recipients were to be chosen by lottery, with higher priority given to students from “needs improvement” schools.

 The lotteries provided the research teams with randomly assigned treatment and control groups, allowing them to use rigorous experimental methods to measure the effects of vouchers. The evaluators looked at effects of the program over at least four years on both students who were offered vouchers and those who accepted the offer and actually attended a private school. The final report uses data from the 2008-09 school year. Congress voted last year to end the program but allowed students already enrolled with vouchers to continue until they graduate.

 Graduation rates were higher overall than control groups both for students who were offered vouchers and those who actually used the awards to attend private schools, with the impact being greater for the latter group. The rates were also higher for some subgroups – girls, students from schools in need of improvement, and those with higher achievement levels before the program. The report notes that graduation data came from parental reports, not school records.

 The evaluators also measured parents’ and students’ assessments of their school’s safety and their overall satisfaction with the school. Parents of children who were offered vouchers rated schools more positively than parents whose children lost the lotteries, while students in the two groups reported gave their schools generally comparable ratings.

 The research team also tracked which students who were offered vouchers used them to attend private schools and investigated why other students did not use them or attended private schools only sporadically.  Some families reported that they declined the vouchers because their chosen school did not have space or did not participate in the program. Others said they did not find special services they needed or that their student was accepted at a desired charter school. Some families left the program because they left Washington or gained enough income to exceed the program’s participation criteria.

Read the full report here and the executive summary here.


Learn about more voucher research associated with the NCSC.

Read materials on the 2009 evaluation, which was discussed at the NCSC conference in October 2009.

These NCSC projects study several aspects of voucher programs.

Competitive Effects of Vouchers (Florida)

Advanced Analyses of Randomized School Voucher Experiments

Impact of Choice and Competition in Milwaukee

The NCSC is funded by a 5 year, $13.3 million grant from the U.S. Department of Education's Institute of Education Sciences. Its lead institution is Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee. The center is housed on the campus of Peabody College, one of the nation's top graduate schools of education.