Tuesday, January 02, 2007

San Antonio's proven that school vouchers work well

What the authors fail to recognize is the impact of funding equalization on Edgewood that correlated to improvement in its public schools. -Angela

Dec. 25, 2006, 6:35PM
San Antonio's proven that school vouchers work well
Edgewood experiment a clear success in all ways


As the Texas Legislature gears up for another debate over school vouchers in the coming session, naturally Texans are looking for evidence on whether vouchers work. They should look at the long-running voucher program in San Antonio. As with programs across the country, the evidence shows that vouchers work.

While Texas doesn't have a government-sponsored school choice program, San Antonio has had a voucher program funded with private contributions since 1998. It allows students in public schools in the Edgewood school district to attend private schools they otherwise couldn't afford.

Many people think that voucher programs will hurt public schools, draining them of the talent and resources they need to succeed. Others suggest that vouchers will improve public schools by exposing them to greater competition. Because most students will remain in public schools even with a voucher program, the most important empirical issue about vouchers is determining how they will affect achievement in public schools.

We conducted an analysis to determine whether Edgewood's public schools have been improving or declining since the creation of the voucher program. We compared the year-to-year changes in Edgewood's performance with those of other Texas school districts, controlling for factors such as race and income.

We found that Edgewood started producing outstanding academic improvements after the voucher program was created. What had long been an extremely troubled school district began to outperform 85 percent of Texas school districts given their demographic characteristics.

That may come as a surprise, but it shouldn't. Nationwide, there is a large body of research finding that public schools exposed to vouchers make superior test score gains, including four independent studies in Florida, two in Milwaukee, and one each in Maine and Vermont.

On top of all this, we are not aware of any empirical studies in the United States that have found that public schools get worse because of school vouchers. That's an impressive track record.

The evidence that vouchers work for the students who use them is even stronger. There have been eight studies of vouchers that used "random assignment," the scientific gold standard, to compare very similar treatment and control groups. Seven of the eight studies found that voucher students outperformed students who applied for vouchers but did not receive them. The eighth also found higher test scores for voucher students, but the result failed to achieve statistical significance.

Other questions have been raised about vouchers, such as whether they will provide adequate services to disabled students, whether they exacerbate racial segregation and whether they will undermine the teaching of civic values. In all three cases, the evidence shows that vouchers produce better results than public schools.

We conducted an empirical analysis of a voucher program for disabled students in Florida. We found that disabled students using vouchers to attend private schools received better services than they had received in their public schools. They were also bullied and assaulted much less often by their peers — a major problem for disabled students.

There have been seven studies of racial segregation in voucher programs in Milwaukee, Cleveland, and Washington, D.C., that use valid empirical methods. All seven find that the private schools participating in these programs were less racially segregated than the public schools in those cities.

Public schools assign students to schools by neighborhood, ensuring that residential segregation will be reproduced in schools; vouchers break down neighborhood barriers.

And what about the teaching of civic values? Pat Wolf of the University of Arkansas collected the results of all empirical studies that measured the civic values of public and private school students — whether they tolerated the rights of those they disliked, whether they voted, whether they volunteered, and so on. Across the board, the available studies overwhelmingly found that private school students had stronger civic values than public school students.

San Antonio students get a better education because of vouchers — including not only the students who can choose the school that works best for them thanks to vouchers, but also the students who remain in public schools and benefit from vouchers' competitive effects.

Now the only question is whether the rest of Texas wants to reap the same benefits as San Antonio.

Forster is a senior fellow at the Milton Friedman Foundation; Greene is head of the Department of Education Reform at the University of Arkansas. They are authors of "Education Myths" (Rowman & Littlefield, 2005).

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