NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Rand Study Evaluates Charters and Vouchers

December 7, 2001

A new study from the Rand Corporation concludes that the evidence is so far inconclusive on the effects of charter schools and school vouchers, mainly because most programs have been in operation such a short time.

However, there are some specific findings in the 4-year study that should cheer choice proponents. For instance, although charter school achievements are mixed, performance improves after the first year.

  • In Arizona, charter schools seem to be outperforming conventional public schools in reading and possibly in math.
  • In Texas, charter schools that focus specifically on students at risk for poor academic performance show an achievement advantage over conventional public schools.
  • However, other Texas charter schools perform slightly worse than conventional public schools.

In virtually all the voucher and charter programs studied, parents report high satisfaction with their children's schools.

  • Also, small experimental, privately-funded voucher programs suggest that African-American students may receive a modest achievement benefit after one or two years in the programs.
  • In highly segregated communities, targeted voucher programs may modestly increase racial integration.

To ensure that voucher and charter programs will be academically effective, researchers say program designers should include existing private schools, enforce requirements for student achievement testing, and actively inform parents about schools and their effectiveness.

The Rand study's call "to expand the scope and freedom of choice programs... is a welcome conclusion," says Jeanne Allen of the Center for Education Reform.

The National Education Association, the largest teachers' union, said it disagreed with the report's conclusion that more studies on vouchers and charter schools are needed.

Source: Tamara Henry, "Study Finds Skimpy Evidence on Vouchers," USA Today; and Cheryl Wetzstein, "Education Choices Untested," Washington Times; both December 7, 2001; based on Brian P. Gill, P. Michael Timpane, Karen E. Ross and Dominic J. Brewer, "Rhetoric Versus Reality: What We Know and What We Need to Know About Vouchers and Charter Schools ," MR-1118-EDU, Rand Corporation, 2001.

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