On June 18, 2012 the Obama administration struck a deal with congress members in favor of the Washington, DC voucher system. This deal added the funds back into the budget to allow for the current 1,530 students in the Opportunity Scholarship Program to continue with their scholarships, but only allows for 85 more students to join. Although this allows the program to continue, it doesn’t however make way for the program to flourish in the future. The interesting question is that if school choice was not having positive effects for the families involved, why not cut the program altogether instead of just allowing those currently in the program to continue? With the Obama administration making a clear stance against vouchers and school choice, the topic is one up for debate. Do voucher systems improve the lives of those participating? Furthermore, do they improve the school system in general?
Research on voucher programs across the country has concluded, that yes, voucher systems do work. According to “A Win-Win Solution: The Empirical Evidence on School Vouchers,” there have been 10 unbiased studies conducted on the effects of such programs and all of them showed that in all but one case study, at least some students were positively affected and none were negatively affected. (See table below).
Furthermore, not only were students who were participating in the program positively affected, but the public school systems in which the vouchers were being administered saw improvements as well. In 22 studies done on the improvements of the public schools entangled with voucher systems, all but one showed positive effects and none showed negative effects. (See table below).
The report goes more in depth for methodology and results of the various studies, but in general these studies were conducted using a random sampling of students that were self selected as voucher students and non-voucher students. One of the more interesting studies was one done on Florida’s A+ program that was struck down by the courts in 2006. It compared improvements of students in failing schools before the voucher program and after. It was shown that schools that received F’s improved on average 13 points before vouchers were available and 15 points after. This indicates that does not only grading schools based on their performance encourage improvement, but these schools improved more after the competition of the voucher system was in place. Other studies also saw that the competition private schools brought to the public school system produced positive results.
Although in some studies the improvement in test scores for students were modest and many of them did not indicate an overall difference in school satisfaction, there were across the board improvement in attitudes of parents. Parents were asked questions across 10 categories including things such as “academic program,” “teacher skills,” “school discipline,” “safety” and “moral values.” This indicates that even with some students only seeing modest or no improvements in reading and math scores, that parents are satisfied with other important factors that are hard to measure. These factors that includes things such as moral values and safety are essential to creating functional members of society and their importance cannot be overlooked. Therefore, claims that voucher programs don’t work and are harmful are statistically untrue. What the true extent of how much school choice programs could improve the school system can’t be known until a program is really allowed to flourish.