Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Ezra Klein on Vouchers

Ezra Klein has this to say about vouchers:
Since I've been involved in this debate, I've been trying to read up on the various voucher programs that have actually been implemented. To that end, I just grabbed RAND's Rhetoric versus Reality: What We Know and What We Need to Know About Voucher and Charter Schools. RAND, it goes without saying, is no hotbed of left wingery. But their "Academic Achievement" section begins with this:
The newest experimental voucher evidence comes from the federally sponsored voucher program in Washington DC, established in 2004, known as the DC Opportunity Scholarship Program. . . . The authors found no impact, positive or negative, on average test scores in reading or math. Similarly, they found no impact of the effect of using a voucher to attend a private school on average reading or math test scores.
Given that a lot of this conversation has actually been about the DC public school system, this data is relatively important. Again, it doesn't mean that experimentation couldn't have positive impacts -- say, under charter schools, where pubic accountability is retained -- but this intense focus on vouchers stems from a commitment to economic orthodoxy, not because the programs have any proven results.
Ezra is quoting from page 80 in that RAND report. But if you continue to page 83:
Although we do not address all of the technical points here, our bottom-line conclusion is that the New York voucher experiment provides fairly strong evidence that the voucher offer benefited the achievement of many participating African-American students.

Similar randomized voucher experiments have been conducted in three other cities. In Dayton, Ohio, and Washington DC (in 1998), and in Charlotte, North Carolina (in 1999), nonprofit organizations distributed tuition scholarships to low-income students, allocating the scholarships by lottery in imitation of the New York program. . . .

Averaged across the three cities, the effect was equal to approximately one-third of a standard deviation — fairly large in terms of most educational interventions, equal to about one-third of the average racial gap in achievement in the country.
And on page 84:
Meanwhile, in Charlotte, Jay Greene used the voucher lottery to examine achievement after one year and found statistically significant advantages for voucher students in both reading and math. This positive voucher effect corresponds to 0.25 standard deviation. The Charlotte results are not disaggregated by ethnicity, but the overwhelming majority of participants were African-American. In sum, the experimental voucher findings are largely positive for African-American children (although no effects have become apparent after one year of participation in the federally funded voucher program in DC).
After discussing some concerns (such as attrition in the programs), the RAND report concludes:
Despite these concerns, the findings from the experimental studies constitute the most compelling evidence available on the achievement effects of vouchers (for voucher students).
Anyone who cites the RAND report should acknowledge that it deems the "most compelling evidence" on the subject to be the many studies showing significant achievement gains for black students.

UPDATE: Ezra Klein has a new post on vouchers. Rather than supplementing the record, he says this:
I've posted the conclusions of books, studies, and RAND monographs. Voucher programs simply haven't worked.
That's not a fair representation of what the RAND report says.



Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home