Choice, charters and vouchers
Vouchers in school reform programmes have made little headway over the years. Mainly due to opposition to vouchers from powerful teachers unions in the United States. Indeed, Private School vouchers are illegal in some states although nationwide, around 141,000 students use a voucher to attend a private school. Democratic politicians tend to shy away from vouchers because of the unions position.
Professor Paul Peterson reminded us in last week’s Friedman lecture at Church House (organised by CMRE think tank) that it wasn’t Milton Friedman who first championed school vouchers , it was our own JS Mill who In ‘On Liberty’ wrote:
‘ If the government would make up its mind to require for every child a good education, it might save itself the trouble of providing one. It might leave to parents to obtain the education where and how they pleased, and content itself with helping to pay the school fees of the poorer classes of children, and defraying the entire school expenses of those who have no one else to pay for them.’
But although school vouchers are seen as an issue supported by the political right (Milton Friedman etc) quite a few thinkers on the left are sympathetic to the idea of using vouchers to help the disadvantaged to get access to the best schools. More often than not disadvantaged families have to send their children to the worst sink schools, sustaining the cycle of disadvantage. Some have a way out now in the States ,with access to Charter schools-around 5 % of the student population in the States are in Charter schools. And there are some notably good charter chains -KIPP springs to mind. But there are also some not so good, and this applies to some private schools as well.- although more rigorous vetting has had beneficial effects. If charters dont perform, of course, then they lose their contract. Poor state schools tend to carry on regardless of performance and student outcomes. Charters do appear to have had a significant impact in certain areas on attainment ( for example, in Post- Katrina New Orleans although a recent voucher scheme that was evaluated in the state had less than stellar results-the lucky ones were in fact the students who didnt win the lottery ) Professor Paul Peterson pointed to evidence that Charter schools, overall, do have a positive effect on attainment, particularly with disadvantaged students and their record for improving college enrollments , for example, compares well with other local schools.
There is also some evidence out there on vouchers and their effects. Professor Peterson has tracked the impact of a voucher programme all the way from kindergarten (in 1997) to college enrollment (in 2011). His study compared students who won a voucher lottery with students who didn’t—the only difference between the groups was the luck of the draw, the gold standard in research design.
The study shows that an African-American student who was able to use a voucher to attend a private school was 24% more likely to enroll in college than an African-American student who didn’t win a voucher lottery.
The voucher programme took place in New York City. Its initial impetus came in 1996, when Archbishop John J. O’Connor invited New York City schools Chancellor Rudy Crew to “send the city’s most troubled public school students to Catholic schools.” That didn’t quite work out but a group of private philanthropists—including prominent Wall Street figures Bruce Kovner, Roger Hertog and Peter Flanagan stepped into the breach —creating the New York School Choice Scholarships Foundation.
The foundation offered three-year scholarships—that is, vouchers—worth up to $1,400 annually (in 1998 dollars) to approximately 1,000 low-income families with children of elementary-school age. A recipient could attend any of the hundreds of private schools, religious or secular, in New York City. The city’s largest provider of private schooling was the Catholic archdiocese, which reported average tuition at the time of $1,728 per year. Total expenditures at these schools, from all revenue sources, came to $2,400 per pupil (compared to total costs of more than $5,000 per pupil in the public schools). Over 20,000 applicants participated in the lottery.
Of the 2,666 students in the original study, necessary information was available for over 99%. To see whether those who won the lottery were more likely to go to college, Peterson and his research colleagues linked student Social Security numbers and other identifying characteristics to college enrollment data available from the National Student Clearinghouse, which collects that information from institutions of higher education attended by 96% of all U.S. students. The reserachers said that they were not aware of any other voucher study that has been as successful at tracking students over such a long period of time.
Although the study identified no significant impact on college enrollments among Hispanic students (and too few white and Asian students participated for us to analyze), the impact on African-American students was large. Not only were part-time and full-time college enrollment together up 24%, but full-time enrollment increased 31% and attendance at selective colleges (enrolling students with average SAT scores of 1100 or higher) more than doubled, to 8% from 3%. These impacts are especially striking given the modest costs of the intervention: only $4,200 per pupil over a three-year period. This implies that the government would actually save money if it introduced a similar voucher program, as private-school costs are lower than public-school costs.
The difference in the effects for African-American and Hispanic students is probably due to the greater educational challenges faced by the African-Americans. Only 36% of them went to college if they didn’t receive a voucher, compared to 45% of the Hispanic students.
Note- Acknowledgements to Wall Street Journal article – Matthew M. Chingos and Paul E Peterson Aug. 23, 2012 and Paul E Petersons-Friedman Lecture, (CMRE) Westminster 26 January 2016