Vouchers Are a Win-Win Solution – Updated Edition

(Guest post by Greg Forster)

The Foundation for Educational Choice has just released my new report, “A Win-Win Solution: The Empirical Evidence on School Vouchers.” It’s an updated edition of my 2009 report providing a comprehensive overview of, well, the empirical evidence on school vouchers. In addition to incorporating new studies, this edition also expands the scope. The first edition only looked at the evidence on how vouchers impact public schools; this new edition also includes how vouchers impact the students who use them.

As before, I summarize the research with one striking chart. Or, now, two charts – one on how vouchers impact participants, and the other on how they impact public schools:


(Note: This image has been corrected; an earlier version transposed Milwaukee and Florida in Table 2. I apologize for the error.)

I’m not sure I can improve on what I wrote here on JPGB when I posted the first edition two years ago:

Worth a thousand words, isn’t it? I mean, at what point are we allowed to say that people are either lying, or have been hoodwinked by other people’s lies, when they say that the research doesn’t support a positive impact from vouchers on public schools?

There’s always room for more research. What would we all do with our time if there weren’t? But on the question of what the research we now have says, the verdict is not in dispute.

The report surveys all the random-assignment research on participants, and all the research (using all methods) on public school impacts. Readers of JPGB are probably familiar with the reason for this difference: random assignment is so far superior to other methods that when a large body of random assignment research exists, it ought to be given priority. However, since it’s not possible to do random-assignment research on how vouchers impact public schools, we have to cast a wider net – and the research methods being used in this field have been improving over time. Yet the results have remained consistent – how about that?

Here’s the executive summary of the new report:

This report collects the results of all available empirical studies using the best available scientific methods to measure how school vouchers affect academic outcomes for participants, and all available studies on how vouchers affect outcomes in public schools. Contrary to the widespread claim that vouchers do not benefit participants and hurt public schools, the empirical evidence consistently shows that vouchers improve outcomes for both participants and public schools. In addition to helping the participants by giving them more options, there are a variety of explanations for why vouchers might improve public schools as well. The most important is that competition from vouchers introduces healthy incentives for public schools to improve.

Key findings include:

  • Ten empirical studies have used random assignment, the gold standard of social science, to examine how vouchers affect participants. Nine studies find that vouchers improve student outcomes, six that all students benefit and three that some benefit and some are not affected. One study finds no visible impact. None of these studies finds a negative impact.
  • Nineteen empirical studies have examined how vouchers affect outcomes in public schools. Of these studies, 18 find that vouchers improved public schools and one finds no visible impact. No empirical studies find that vouchers harm public schools.
  • Every empirical study ever conducted in Milwaukee, Florida, Ohio, Texas, Maine and Vermont finds that voucher programs in those places improved public schools.
  • Only one study, conducted in Washington D.C., found no visible impact from vouchers. This is not surprising, since the D.C. voucher program is the only one designed to shield public schools from the impact of competition. Thus, the D.C. study does not detract from the research consensus in favor of a positive effect from voucher competition.
  • The benefits provided by existing voucher programs are sometimes large, but are usually more modest in size. This is not surprising since the programs themselves are modest — curtailed by strict limits on the students they can serve, the resources they provide, and the freedom to innovate. Only a universal voucher program could deliver the kind of dramatic improvement our public schools so desperately need.

6 Responses to Vouchers Are a Win-Win Solution – Updated Edition

  1. matthewladner says:

    Very nice!

    It has almost been 5 years since I offered to buy a steak dinner to anyone in the country who could produce two random assignment studies showing a signficant and negative academic impact associated with participation in a voucher program.

    It looks like our opponents are holding steady at zero.


  2. […] on Jay Greene’s blog, author Greg Forster expounds more on the results — including some visuals that lay out the findings as presented above. My suggestion for the […]

  3. Daniel Earley says:

    I especially appreciate the PR wisdom of this report’s exquisite defense of private school choice while boldly using the V word — with not a millimeter of shyly sidestepping to any euphemisms. The sooner we accept the reality that ALL mechanisms for delivering private school choice — whether tax credits, education savings account, no matter the form — will ALWAYS be labeled by the opposition as “backdoor vouchers,” then the wisdom in this courage will become more clear.

    It’s easy to forget that even in 1970 the label “Made in Japan” seemed culturally stigmatized beyond repair. Yet by 1985 it was the label of choice. How? Because when the going was tough, nobody in Japan wimped out by saying “Made in Asia.”

    Directly vindicating the label (using other tactics as well) becomes not just an inescapable need imposed by the opposition, but a strategy that has both precedent and historic potential to backfire on the edublob the way it did on the American auto industry of the 1970s with regard to Japanese imports. In other words, nice work Greg.

  4. Greg Forster says:

    Stuart points out:

    Diane Ravitch told the American Association of School Administrators recently:

    . Researchers used to argue about whether voucher students were making greater progress than those in regular public schools. But there is now a research consensus that the children in voucher schools get no greater performance gains than the children in regular public schools.

    Matt comments:

    Sounds like she reached a consensus among the voices in her head.

  5. […] loser. What we need to do is fix K-12 schools. School choice has improved public schools every time it’s been tried. Universal school choice would drive a radical K-12 […]

  6. […] loser. What we need to do is fix K-12 schools. School choice has improved public schools every time it’s been tried. Universal school choice would drive a radical K-12 […]

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