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A Rising Tide: School Vouchers and Their History of Improving Public Schools

A Rising Tide: School Vouchers and Their History of Improving Public Schools

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Published by: Illinois Policy Institute on Apr 21, 2010
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 A Rising Tide
School vouchers and their history of improving public schools 
Students in Chicago’s lowest-performing public schools could soon have a new choiceof schools if the General Assembly adopts anew program proposed by Rev. Senator JamesMeeks. Senate Bill 2494 would provide school vouchers to students in the bottom-performing ten percent of Chicago public elementary schools, giving those students the opportunity to attend area private schools if their parents sochoose.Roughly 22,000 students attend the 48elementary schools that are currently Chicago’slowest performers on state assessmenttests. Of those schools, 37 have been understate or federal sanctions for 9 consecutiveyears or more, meaning that existing schoolimprovement strategies are not working – evenin an era where accountability policies andsupplemental services have been expandedgreatly. The legislation proposed by Senator Meeksmirrors policies that have been adopted inseveral cities and states throughout the country. Those programs have beneted the students who use vouchers—and, in an even moreencouraging nding, research shows thatthese programs have improved public schoolperformance as well.Nineteen studies have been conducted in citiesand states where school voucher programs havebeen created. Eighteen of them nd signicantimprovement in public school performance,suggesting that competition works. Giving parents a choice means giving schools a new incentive to improve—namely, the fact thatthese parents can take their students and thedollars to support their education elsewhere. The voucher program that most closely resembles the one proposed in Senate Bill 2494is the “A+” school choice program in Florida.For years Florida implemented strong centraltesting and accountability measures, as Illinoisand Chicago Public Schools have attempted todo. Those actions did not signicantly improveits worst public schools, so Florida created anewer provision stating that students in schoolsthat receive a “failing grade” two years in a row  will be eligible for school vouchers. Ten studieshave since been conducted on the impact of the new policy on public school performance,and all of them have found that providing school vouchers has helped improve Florida’s worst public schools.Listed in the table on the next page is every study of the impact that school voucherprograms have had on public schools. Rarely in social science are the ndings so consistent:students benet merely from having the optionto use a voucher – even if they remain in publicschools – because the competition for studentshas forced those schools to improve.
Collin Hitt 
is director of education policy for the Illinois Policy Institute.
See the chart on the next page.
Study Location(Program)Result
 Jay P. Greene, “An Evaluationof the Florida A-PlusAccountability and SchoolChoice Program.” ManhattanInstitute. February 2001.Florida(A+ School Choice)Schools that had received an F grade, whose students would be eligible for vouchers if the schoolreceived another F grade, made much larger year-to-year gains than schools that received a D (18points in reading and 26 points in math for F schools versus 10 points in reading and 16 points inmath for D schools). Jay P. Greene and Marcus Win-ters. “Competition Passes theTest,” Education Next, Summer2004.Florida(A+ School Choice)For both math and reading scores, on both the state test and the Stanford-9 test, so-called “VoucherEligible” schools made improvements 15 points higher than other Florida public schools, while“Voucher Threatened” schools made improvements 9 points higher.Rajashri Chakrabarti, “Closingthe Gap,” Education Next,Summer 2004.Florida(A+ School Choice)Under the previous state accountability system – which did not include a voucher component forlow-performing “F” schools – putting a school in the F category did not improve its performancerelative to D schools in the next lowest performance category. However, over three years aftervouchers were implemented, the gap between F schools and D schools closed from almost 15 pointsto about 5 points.Rajashri Chakrabarti, “Impactof Voucher Design on PublicSchool Performance,” ReserveBank of New York Staff Report#315, January 2008.Florida(A+ School Choice)Using a method known as “regression discontinuity,” this study found a positive impact of the Fgrade, which forces schools to offer vouchers. The high-scoring F schools outscored the low-scoringD schools (which also were put under sanctions – but did not have to offer vouchers) by 7 points inreading and 6 points in math over three years.Rajashri Chakrabarti, “Vouch-ers, Public School Response,and the Role of Incentives: Evi-dence from Florida,” ReserveBank of New York Staff Report#306, October 2007.Florida(A+ School Choice)Examined the scores of students in F schools whose test scores fell just short of prociency. Thesestudents’ scores improved signicantly, suggesting that the schools focused on the failing studentswhose improvements could most quickly improve the school’s overall standing.David Figlio and CeceliaRouse, “Do Accountability andVoucher Threats Improve Low-Performing Schools?” NationalBureau of Economic Research,August 2004.Florida(A+ School Choice)Examined the period over which vouchers were rst being introduced in Florida. If a school receivedan F grade, its students made gains on the state test that were 2 points larger in reading and 5 pointslarger in math than those of other Florida schools over one year. Scores on the nationally-normedStanford-9 test also improved. The authors would observe larger effects in subsequent studies, aftervouchers had expanded further.Cecilia Elena Rouse, JaneHannaway, Dan Goldhaber, andDavid Figlio. “Feeling the FloridaHeat? How Low-PerformingSchools Respond to Voucherand Accountability Pressure.”National Center for Analysis of Longitudinal Data in EducationResearch. November 2007.Florida(A+ School Choice)The study used a regression discontinuity model to compare high-scoring F schools (whose studentscan receive vouchers) and low-scoring D schools (whose students cannot receive vouchers). It foundthat receiving an F grade in 2002-03 produced academic improvements in students’ test scores inthe next year relative to those in non-F schools, and that these improvements were sustained in fu-ture years. They presented their results in terms of standard deviations rather than test score points;they found that the gains were equal to about a tenth of a standard deviation.Martin R. West, and Paul E.Peterson. “The Efcacy of Choice Threats Within SchoolAccountability Systems: ResultsFrom Legislatively InducedExperiments .” EducationResources Information Center.March 2005.Florida(A+ School Choice)Among schools that had not received the lowest possible rating under the state’s previous schoolevaluation system (which had no voucher component), receiving an F and thus being required to of-fer vouchers under the new accountability system produced an improvement in students’ test scoresequal to about four percent of a standard deviation over one year.Greg Forster, “Lost Opportu-nity: An Empirical Analysis of How Vouchers Affected FloridaPublic Schools.” FriedmanFoundation for EducationalChoice. March 2008.Florida(A+ School Choice)Examined the impact of the A+ program in every year from 2001 through 2006. He found that in2001, before vouchers were widely available, Voucher Threatened schools made gains relative to allFlorida schools equal to 13 points on Florida’s new “developmental scale,” which uses a single scaleto track student scores from 3rd grade through high school. The next year, when vouchers werewidely available, Voucher Threatened schools gained 15 developmental points, but Voucher Eligibleschools gained 67 developmental points relative to other Florida schools. Over the next threeyears, as the percentage of families using vouchers decreased due to the red tape created by thestate department of education, the positive voucher effect was not as large but remained substantial(Voucher Eligible schools gained from 20 to 27 developmental points each year). Jay P. Greene and Marcus A.Winters. “The Effect of Special-Education Vouchers on PublicSchool Achievement: Evidencefrom Florida’s McKay Scholar-ship Program.” ManhattanInstitute. April 2008.Florida(McKay Special Needs)The strongest effect of the McKay Scholarship program – which gives school choice to any disabledstudent in the state – was among students classied as learning disabled, representing 61 percent of all Florida disabled students. At a public school exposed to an average amount of competition fromnearby private schools, the positive impact of the McKay program was equal to 16 points in mathand 24 points in reading among learning disabled students.
Page 2 of 4
Study Location(Program)Result
 Jay P. Greene and Marcus A.Winters. “How Special EdVouchers Keep Kids FromBeing Mislabeled as Disabeled,”Manhattan Institute, August2009.Florida(McKay Special Needs)Measured the impact that the program has had on the problem of over-diagnosis of students aslearning disabled within public schools. On average, nds that students are 15 percent less likelyto be diagnosed as learning disabled. Public schools, it appears, are being more cautious in lablingstudents as learning disabled.Caroline Hoxby, “Rising Tide,”Education Next, Winter 2001.Milwaukee, WICompared schools where at least 66 percent of the student population was eligible for vouchers toschools where fewer students were eligible for vouchers. She found that in a single year, schools inthe “more exposed to vouchers” group made gains that were greater than those of other Milwaukeepublic schools by 3 percentile points in math, 3 points in language, 5 points in science and 3 points insocial studies.Greene, Ph.D., Jay P., and GregForster Ph.D. “Rising to theChallenge: The Effect of SchoolChoice on Public Schools inMilwaukee and San Antonio.”Manhattan Institute. October2002.Milwaukee, WIFound that greater exposure to vouchers had a positive effect on year-to-year changes in publicschool outcomes; the size of the effect was such that a school with all its students eligible for vouch-ers could be expected to outperform a school with only half its students eligible by 15 percentilepoints over four years.Rajashri Chakrabarti, “CanIncreasing Private School Par-ticipation and Monetary Lossin a Voucher Program AffectPublic School Performance?Evidence from Milwaukee.”Federal Reserve Bank of NewYork Staff Reports. FederalReserve Bank of New York,September 2007.Milwaukee, WIIn two analyses that were released in 2006, the author found that the Milwaukee voucher programimproved public schools. The author conducted multiple analyses using different methods for mea-suring public schools’ exposure to vouchers: some are similar to Hoxby’s method (above) and oth-ers to Greene and Forster’s method (also above). In both studies, Chakrabarti found that increasedexposure to vouchers improves academic gains in Milwaukee public schools.Rajashri Chakrabarti, “Impactof Voucher Design on PublicSchool Performance,” ReserveBank of New York Staff Report#315, January 2008. Note:This study is listed abovesince it also contains researchon Florida’s school voucherprogram.Milwaukee, WIMartin Carnoy, et. al., “Vouchersand Public School Performance:A Case Study of the MilwaukeeParental Choice Program,” Eco-nomic Policy Institute, 2007.Milwaukee, WIThis study used a modied form of the Hoxby/Chakrabarti method above. The authors reportedthat their analysis “conrms the earlier results showing a large improvement in Milwaukee in the twoyears following the 1998 expansion of the voucher plan to religious schools.” Before 1998, religiousschools were excluded from the Milwaukee program, so many fewer students participated. Whenreligious schools were admitted to the program in 1998, participation increased dramatically, and sodid public school performance. Jay P. Greene and Ryan H.Marsh, “The Effect of Milwau-kee’s Parental Choice Programon Student Acheivement inMilwaukee Public Schools,” theSchool Choice DemonstrationProject, 2009.Milwaukee, WILooking at student-level data, the study concludes that public school scores improve as more privateschools participate in the Milwaukee voucher program. Finds that for every 37 private schoolsthat participate in the program, public school acheivement is boosted by 2 NCE points (similar topercentage points). Speculates that the program has historically improved Milwaukee Public Schoolperformance by 6 points.Greg Forster. “Promising Start:An Empirical Analysis of HowEdChoice Vouchers AffectOhio Public Schools.” FriedmanFoundation for EducationalChoice. August 2008.OhioExamined year-to-year test score changes in schools where students were eligible for vouchers.Forster found positive effects from the EdChoice program in math scores for 4th and 6th gradestudents and reading scores for 6th grade students, and no visible effect in other grades. The positiveeffects ranged from 3 to 5 points in one year. Jay P. Greene and Marcus Win-ters, “An Evaluation of the Ef-fects of D.C.’s Voucher Programon Public School Acheivementand Racial Integration OverOne Year,” Manhattan Institute, January 2006.Washington, D.C.The D.C. program enrolls a relatively small percentage of students within the district, and publicschools are “held harmless” to the effects of competition because additional money used to “com-pensate” schools that lose students. Unsurprisingly, the authors found no visible effects upon theperformance of public schools.
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