Available at the “Foundation for Educational Choice” is an updated version of a January 2009 report (published under the title A Win-Win Solution: The Empirical Evidence on How Vouchers Affect Public Schools) titled A Win-Win Solution: The Empirical Evidence on School Vouchers released 3/23/2011 by Greg Forster, Ph.D and available to read in full Here.
This isn’t an opinion piece. “This report reviews all available empirical studies on participant effects that use the “gold standard” method of random assignment and all available empirical studies (using any scientific method) of how voucher programs affect academic achievement in public schools. The research reviewed in this report is complete and up to date, including all available empirical studies of which the author is aware as of February 2011.”
The paper is about 30 pages and very easy to read. We have pasted some of the more “important” parts below and even highlighted some sections in red to make sure they aren’t missed. We do recommend reading the full report. It will give you a great understanding of the school choice facts, as there is a lot of conflicting information in the media these days.
Contrary to the widespread claim that vouchers do not benefit participants and hurt public schools, the empirical evidence consistently shows that vouchers improve outcomes for both participants and public schools. In addition to helping the participants by giving them more options, there are a variety of explanations for why vouchers might improve public schools as well. The most important is that competition from vouchers introduces healthy incentives for public schools to improve.
From 1990 to 2006, the nation’s school choice programs saved $422 million for local school districts and $22 million for state budgets. When students leave public schools using vouchers, not all the funding associated with those students goes with them. This means public schools are left with more money to serve the students who remain. Educating students in private schools rather than public schools not only accomplishes better results, it also costs less.
Similarly, the claim that vouchers “cream” or attract the best students from public schools has no empirical evidence to support it. The best available analyses of this question have found voucher applicants to be very similar to the population of students eligible for vouchers in terms of demographics and educational background.
Nineteen empirical studies have been conducted on how voucher programs (and one tax-credit scholarship program) impact academic achievement in public schools. Of these studies, 18 find that vouchers improve public schools. The one remaining study found that vouchers had no visible impact on public schools. No empirical study has ever found that vouchers had a negative impact on student outcomes in public schools.
Six empirical studies have been conducted on how the Milwaukee voucher program affects academic outcomes at public schools. All six unanimously find that vouchers improve Milwaukee public schools.
Eleven empirical studies have been conducted on how two voucher programs and one tax-credit scholarship program in Florida have affected academic outcomes at public schools. All eleven unanimously find that vouchers have improved Florida public schools.
Four studies have been conducted on the impact of voucher programs in other places. Three of these studies find that vouchers improve public schools; one finds that vouchers make no visible difference to public school outcomes.
As the first studies on this subject emerged, some speculated that the improvements in public schools might be caused by other factors besides positive incentives from vouchers. Subsequent research rigorously tested the alternative hypotheses that were offered and found them to be unsupported.
The empirical evidence consistently shows that vouchers have succeeded in improving public schools. The size of the effect is often moderate, but a moderate positive effect is still a positive effect. Claims that vouchers “don’t work” directly contradict a clear consensus in the scientific evidence. And yet, while it might be unreasonable to expect miracles, there is still an urgent need for larger improvements than vouchers are now delivering.
If modest programs produce modest benefits, not dramatic benefits, is the logical conclusion to deny that voucher programs have any benefits and give up on them? Or to expand them until they are large enough to have a dramatic impact? Existing voucher programs are hindered in a number of ways, such as:
• Limits on the number of students they may serve;
• Limits on the types of students they may serve;
• Limits on the purchasing power they are allowed to provide;
• Limits on families’ ability to supplement that purchasing power;
• Limits on how students may be admitted to participating schools, and so forth.
Ultimately, the only way to make school reform work on a large scale is to break the government monopoly on schooling. The monopoly ensures that no meaningful accountability for performance can occur, except in rare cases as a result of herculean efforts.
Existing school choice programs don’t provide enough students, dollars, and freedom to sustain new schools and allow a robust education market to emerge. Only universal vouchers can break the education monopoly and produce the dramatic improvements we need.
Even if vouchers did not improve test scores for participants and in public schools, there would still be other reasons to implement them. Vouchers put students into schools that graduate more students, earn significantly greater satisfaction from parents, provide better services for disabled students, improve racial integration and students’ civic values, save the public money, and so forth.
There are also other reasons one might support vouchers independent of their impact on test scores. Perhaps the most important argument is that they return control of education to parents, where it had rested for much of our nation’s history. The seizure of power over education by a government monopoly and attendant interest groups (especially unions) has had far-reaching implications for our nation. The American founders would have viewed it as incompatible with a free and democratic society, as well as a realistic understanding of the natural formation of the human person in the family.
However, when all these issues have been considered, the empirical question of how vouchers impact student test scores remains – and it remains important. Vouchers do, in fact, improve test scores for both participants and public schools. The benefits of competition in education are clearly established by the evidence. The only remaining question is whether the evidence will be permitted to shape public debate on the question of vouchers.