by Dr. Terry Stoops
Former Director of the Center for Effective Education, John Locke Foundation
This summer, three important school choice studies were published. All three conclude that choice raises student achievement for children in participating families. In this week’s CommenTerry, I review each of these superb reports.
In "Independent Schools and Long-Run Educational Outcomes: Evidence from Sweden’s Large Scale Voucher Reform" (Institute for the Study of Labor, June 2012), researchers Anders Bohlmark and Mikael Lindahl examined the performance of students who used vouchers to attend one of the nearly 400 independent schools in Sweden.
Here is what Bohlmark and Lindahl found:
Sweden’s government-funded voucher program began in 1992. The Swedish voucher system allows any religious, non-profit, cooperative, or for-profit corporation to operate a school, but it must obtain approval from the Swedish National Agency for Education (NAE) to do so. All families are eligible. The school may not select students or charge tuition and fees in excess of the voucher amount. Despite these baseline regulations, independent schools have a great deal of autonomy. Independent school market share is around 11 percent.
An August 2012 National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) study written by economists Justine Hastings, Christopher Neilson, and Seth Zimmerman concluded that students who won a school choice lottery had significantly higher test scores and fewer suspensions and absences than those who did not.
In "The Effect of School Choice on Intrinsic Motivation and Academic Outcomes," Hastings, Neilson, and Zimmerman did not identify the "low-income urban school district" that was the subject of the study. But similar studies of Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools (CMS) found that school choice raised student achievement and improved social outcomes. Like the CMS study, Hastings et al used data from a school choice lottery because it replicated an experimental research design, that is, it randomly assigned students to experimental (lottery winner) and control (lottery loser) groups. This quantitative research design is considered to be the "gold standard" in social science research.
Interestingly, Hastings and her colleagues found that students who chose charter schools had much higher test score gains than those who chose district magnet schools. They explain,
Since charters are allowed to highly specialize and may attract students of parents looking for specialized schools to meet what they believe are their children’s idiosyncratic needs, lottery estimates of local average treatment effects may be very different than what an average student might expect to gain if randomly assigned to that school. Magnet schools may not be so highly targeted or specialized, and particularly in the context of a broad magnet choice program where a large fraction of public schools are magnet choice schools. (p. 17)
In other words, charter schools meet the idiosyncratic needs of children better than magnet schools.
Finally, "The Effects of School Vouchers on College Enrollment: Experimental Evidence from New York City" is an August 2012 Brookings Institution/Harvard University study written by Matthew Chingos and Paul Peterson. Chingos and Peterson concluded that vouchers "increased the overall college enrollment rate among African-Americans by 24 percent."
The authors examined data from the New York School Choice Scholarships Foundation (SCSF) program, a voucher program initiated in 1997. Approximately 1,000 low-income families received three-year scholarships of $1,400 to attend the non-public school of their choice. The SCSF program selected children by lottery. As mentioned above, lotteries replicate an experimental research design, the "gold standard" in social science research.
African-American children made other notable gains. According to Chingos and Peterson, "In the absence of a voucher offer, the percentage of African-American students who attended a selective four-year college was 3 percent. That increased by 3.9 percentage points if the student received the offer of a voucher, a better than 100 percent increment in the percentage enrolled in a selective college — a very large increment from a very low baseline." Unfortunately, there was no evidence that Hispanic students received comparable benefits from the voucher program.
Obviously, the wacky antics of King Ralph didn’t teach the British anything.
Facts and Stats
According to the Alliance for School Choice, more than 210,000 children participated in school choice programs in 2011.
I would like to invite all readers to submit announcements, as well as their personal insights, anecdotes, concerns, and observations about the state of education in North Carolina. I will publish selected submissions in future editions of the newsletter. Anonymity will be honored. For additional information or to send a submission, email Terry at [email protected].
Education Acronym of the Week
SCSF — New York School Choice Scholarships Foundation
Quote of the Week
"Ours is not the first study to find positive benefits from vouchers for African Americans. What’s new is solid evidence that those benefits persist over the long haul."
– Harvard University professor Paul Peterson commenting on his new study (with Matthew Chingos), "The Effects of School Vouchers on College Enrollment: Experimental Evidence from New York City
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