Monday, February 27, 2017

Are Vouchers Bad For Students Who Use Them?

Posted By on Mon, Feb 27, 2017 at 12:37 PM

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Arizona's Republican legislators are pushing a vouchers-on-steroids-for-everyone bill. Betsy DeVos, Trump's new Secretary of Education, loves vouchers and private schools far more than public schools. A bill being pushed in Congress would change the way the Feds give money to the states, requiring that the money go to students attending private schools as well as public schools.

And yet, the latest research indicates that voucher students do worse than similar students who stay in public schools, according to a recent article in the New York Times.

Yeah, I know, it's the New York Times, and what right-thinking, pro-privatization School Choice advocate listens to a paper Trump assures us is spouting Fake News and is an Enemy of the People?

OK then, you might want to listen to the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, a conservative, pro-school choice think tank, whose research is discussed in the NY Times article. The institute published a study in July, 2016, about Ohio's voucher program, which began in 2005. The results for the voucher students weren't good.
The students who use vouchers to attend private schools have fared worse academically compared to their closely matched peers attending public schools. The study finds negative effects that are greater in math than in English language arts. Such impacts also appear to persist over time, suggesting that the results are not driven simply by the setbacks that typically accompany any change of school.
The authors were hoping for a different result, they wrote, but they showed themselves to be honest researchers.
Let us acknowledge that we did not expect—or, frankly, wish—to see these negative effects for voucher participants; but it’s important to report honestly on what the analysis showed and at least speculate on what may be causing these results.
In the same spirit of honesty, I need to add one positive the researchers pulled from their data: the achievement of students who could have chosen to use the vouchers but stayed in public schools actually improved. The authors drew the conclusion that the public schools improved their instruction out of concern that, otherwise, too many students might leave for private schools. If that finding is confirmed elsewhere — and if it's an actual increase in student learning and not just a result of more intense teaching to the standardized tests — it's something educators should look at more carefully.

Back to the NY Times article. The Fordham research was only one of a number of new studies.
[E]ven as school choice is poised to go national, a wave of new research has emerged suggesting that private school vouchers may harm students who receive them. The results are startling — the worst in the history of the field, researchers say.
There's Indiana, Vice President Mike Pence's state.
The first results came in late 2015. Researchers examined an Indiana voucher program that had quickly grown to serve tens of thousands of students under Mike Pence, then the state’s governor. “In mathematics,” they found, “voucher students who transfer to private schools experienced significant losses in achievement.” They also saw no improvement in reading.
Then there's Louisiana.
[R]esearchers published a major study of Louisiana’s voucher program. Students in the program were predominantly black and from low-income families, and they came from public schools that had received poor ratings from the state department of education, based on test scores. For private schools receiving more applicants than they could enroll, the law required that they admit students via lottery, which allowed the researchers to compare lottery winners with those who stayed in public school.

They found large negative results in both reading and math. Public elementary school students who started at the 50th percentile in math and then used a voucher to transfer to a private school dropped to the 26th percentile in a single year. Results were somewhat better in the second year, but were still well below the starting point.
School choice proponents say we need vouchers to rescue students from "failing government schools," using the schools' dismal test scores to prove their point. But those same test scores appear to indicate that private schools are bigger "failures" than the public schools the students left. Voucher advocates might consider stepping back and taking a deep breath. This startling new research is a continuation of years of studies, including two studies from George W. Bush's Department of Education which showed no significant difference between the achievement of similar students in district, charter and private schools. They should ask themselves, is their push for vouchers driven by what's good for our school children or what advances their obsession with shrinking government and increasing privatization?

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