A new study out of Stanford concludes that voucher programs do not improve educational outcomes. (Unfortunately, I read this immediately after reading a piece that said contrary evidence will cause ideologically committed people to adhere even more firmly to their factually unsupported beliefs. So, maybe I’m doing more harm than good by sharing the Standford report.)
Studies of voucher programs in several U.S. cities, the states of Florida, Indiana, Louisiana, and in Chile and India, find limited improvements at best in student achievement and school district performance from even large-scale programs. In the few cases in which test scores increased, other factors, namely increased public accountability, not private school competition, seem to be more likely drivers. And high rates of attrition from private schools among voucher users in several studies raises concerns.
. . .
In the only area in which there is evidence of small improvements in voucher schools—in high school graduation and college enrollment rates—there are no data to show whether the gains are the result of schools shedding lower-performing students or engaging in positive practices. Also, high school graduation rates have risen sharply in public schools across the board in the last 10 years, with those increases much larger than the small effect estimated on graduation rates from attending a voucher school.
. . .
The report suggests that giving every parent and student a great “choice” of educational offerings is better accomplished by supporting and strengthening neighborhood public schools with a menu of proven policies, from early childhood education to after-school and summer programs to improved teacher pre-service training to improved student health and nutrition programs. All of these yield much higher returns than the minor, if any, gains that have been estimated for voucher students. (Emphasis added)
The report also notes that voucher evaluations often do not reflect the hidden costs — such as erosion of the quality of the teaching profession by private school practices such as hiring younger, lower cost teachers and not compensating them at a long-term level necessary to sustain them throughout their career. This depletes the level of experience available in the pool of teachers. It also notes that voucher schools are able to avoid retaining higher cost students and that there are administrative costs associated with managing voucher programs. It also argues that there is a cost to voucher programs in the form of distracting from potentially more successful strategies like early childhood education and nutrition programs.