A new study that began tracking 1,363 New York City kindergartners who received tuition vouchers from the School Choice Scholarships Foundation in 1997 found that the African-American students were 24 percent more likely to enroll in college than those who didn’t receive the voucher. A total of 2,642 students were involved in the research, which continued through 2011. The remaining students were in the “control group,” which didn’t receive vouchers. The students who got the vouchers were selected via lottery. All of the students came from disadvantaged backgrounds. The researchers were able to follow about 99 percent of all the students.
“[T]he only difference between the groups was the luck of the draw, the gold standard in research design,” wrote the researchers Matthew Chingos and Paul Peterson in an op-ed published today in The Wall Street Journal. Chingos is a fellow at the Brookings Institution’s Brown Center on Education Policy; Peterson is a Harvard government professor and director of the school’s program on education policy and governance.
The researchers said they saw no significant difference for Hispanic students, while there weren’t enough Asian or white students for analysis. However, for African-American students, the difference was marked: both part-time and full-time enrollment was up 24 percent, but full-time enrollment on its own was up 31 percent. At colleges that seek out SAT scores of 1,100 or higher was up, enrollment went from three percent to eight percent. Just over one-third of black students who didn’t receive a voucher (36 percent) enrolled in college.
The op-ed, which presumes that President Obama is opposed to vouchers because of “opposition… from powerful teachers unions,” notes that the cost of getting these results was only $4,200 per student over the course of three years. Many believe the study shows the benefits of vouchers.
The Christian Science Monitor also took a closer look at the research and came up with a few points of contention: the study doesn’t look at what happened to students who left the voucher program; the limited scope of the research and its methodology is a problem for some; and the “peer effect” of including low-income students in private schools at greater numbers isn’t taken into account. The researcher acknowledge some of these weaknesses.
As the article points out, vouchers and school choice is a very “politicized” topic in this country right now. So there are lots of issues wrapped up in this besides education.
Separately but related, a Gallup poll released this week found that 29 percent of people think No Child Left Behind has made education worse in the country while 38 percent think it hasn’t really made a difference. Of those who said they’re “very familiar” with the law, 48 percent said it made education worse.