- A federal study on the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program showed low-income students who attend a private school on a voucher scored lower in math than kids who applied but wound up going to public school instead, according to The Hechinger Report.
- Studies of voucher programs in Indiana, Ohio and Louisiana bore similar results, with reasons suggested by experts on both sides of the school-choice debate ranging from demographic differences to curriculum variances to the possibility that private schools that take vouchers are low-quality.
- Causes aside, the study results are shining a light on the fact that private schools haven't been bound by the same accountability measures as public schools, but the influx of public funds via voucher programs could see that change.
The performance of public schools has been under a microscope for decades, but private schools haven't seen anywhere near the same degree of scrutiny because they weren't funded by taxpayer dollars. Voucher programs popularized by the school-choice movement, however, could see those private schools now accepting the funds also accepting that mantle of accountability along with it.
Education researchers at North Carolina State University and the Friday Institute recently completed an unpublished evaluation of that state's Opportunity Scholarship voucher. The participants receiving vouchers scored significantly higher in math, reading and language arts than similar public school students. But the study's authors emphasize those results can't be generalized, since they were unable to obtain a larger, representative sample.
One problem was that voucher recipients weren't incentivized to take part in the study, so volunteers had to be recruited. That in itself may have skewed the selection of participants, as more than half of the 250 kids the report looked at attended Catholic school, which isn't representative of the overall population of voucher users.
One of the study's authors also noted that many in North Carolina want to see better accountability in the voucher program, so the research may well demonstrate that the best efforts to evaluate it within the confines of how it's currently designed will still fall short.
In Florida, which has more students attending private school with the help of vouchers than any other state, many private schools are not accredited. They are also independent entities with no oversight, free to admit, dismiss, test and grade students any way they see fit. The state's private schools, even those receiving state funds, do not need to track graduation rates or any of the other most basic measures of student success. Also, students who leave the public school system relinquish many of the protections afforded under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.
Meanwhile, in Indiana, private schools are critiqued by one of the most familiar of all education metrics: test scores. School-choice advocates there are divided over the unusual measure, but private schools can lose their voucher funding if their test scores don't measure up.