A new study released today by the Brookings Institute and Harvard University researcher Paul E. Peterson shows that low-income students who participated in a three-year voucher program in New York City in the late 1990s overall fared no better in college enrollments than their peers in public schools. However, the study found that African-American students did attend college at higher rates than those who did not receive vouchers.
Although the study was relatively small and narrowly focused, the authors and voucher proponents are using it to lobby for expanding voucher programs across the country. Peterson and researcher Matthew M. Chingos published an editorial in The Wall Street Journal calling on the Obama administration to support the voucher program for students in Washington D.C. Their claims have been challenged by the National School Boards Association (NSBA).
“The grandiose statements made in the executive summary are not substantiated by the data,” said NSBA Executive Director Anne L. Bryant. One undetermined factor, she added, is the level of parental involvement with a child’s education, which research shows makes a significant difference in the child’s academic achievement.
“Clearly the parents who chose this program were dedicated, and parent involvement is key,” Bryant said.
The study examined longitudinal data from the privately funded New York School Choice Scholarships Foundation Program, which offered three-year scholarships of up to $1,400 each year to as many as 1,000 low-income families. Those vouchers were primarily used at Catholic schools, and in most cases parents also paid a portion of the tuition. However, 22 percent of the students who were offered a voucher never used it, and most of the students returned to public schools for reasons unknown, some after the first or second year, noted Jim Hull, senior policy analyst for NSBA’s Center for Public Education.
Several of the report’s methodologies are particularly troublesome, he noted:
- The study neither isolates the impact of private schools nor school choice on students going to college;
- The study never took into account what happened to those students who left the voucher program to return to the public school;
- Results do not show that expanding vouchers programs will necessarily result in higher college going rates for low-income students in urban schools, even black students;
- While the findings about African-American students appear impressive, the actual impact may in fact be minimal due to a large margin of error. An offer of a voucher may only increase a black student’s chances of going to college by as little as .4 percentage points but could be as large as increasing their chances by 13.8 percentage points. A more robust study is needed to more precisely determine the true impact that a voucher offer has on the enrollment of black students in college;
- The more years a student uses a voucher does not necessarily mean a student is more likely to go on to college.
NSBA opposes publicly-funded vouchers for private schools because such programs abandon public schools, which are required to serve all students regardless of abilities, and eliminate public accountability for those tax dollars. Read more in NSBA’s issue brief.