NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Study Finds Voucher Pupils Making Substantial Gains

August 29, 2000

An important new study compares the performance of students attending private schools with the help of vouchers and their peers left in public schools. The study by the Program on Education Policy and Governance at Harvard University is unusual in that it compares students in three cities who applied for privately funded vouchers; since the vouchers were distributed by lottery, the motivation and family backgrounds of those who received vouchers were similar to those who did not.

The report compares reading and math scores on the Iowa Test of Basic Skills of students in New York City, Dayton, Ohio, and Washington, D.C. Second through eighth grades were covered.

  • The study showed that on average those moving to private schools scored 6 percentile points higher than those who stayed in public schools.
  • Progress was greatest in the District of Columbia, where students with vouchers moved 9 percentile points ahead of their public school peers.
  • Ninety-four percent of the students participating in the second year of the study in D.C. were African-American, as were 74 percent in Dayton and 42 percent in New York.

While black students with vouchers showed significant improvement over black students in public schools, no other ethnic groups showed significant gains -- a finding puzzling to the study's authors.

The study, "Test-Score Effects of School Vouchers in Dayton, Ohio, New York City, and Washington, D. C.: Evidence from Randomized Field Trials," was conducted by Paul E. Peterson and David E. Campbell of Harvard University; William G. Howell of the University of Wisconsin; and Georgetown University's Patrick J. Wolf.

Source: Edward Wyatt, "Study Finds Higher Test Scores Among Black with Vouchers," New York Times, August 29, 2000.

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