Voucher Students Get Dismal Results

I was particularly interested in this report about Ohio.  For many years the lead author, David Figlio, conducted evaluations of Florida’s tax credit voucher program.  Figlio is a strong advocate for competition.  In Ohio, he stated that competition helped public school students but hurt students with vouchers who attended private schools.

At the risk of being overly harsh, I have to wonder if the purpose of vouchers is to create ‘sacrificial lambs’ i.e. sending some students off to fail in private schools so those remaining in public schools will do better.  Nothing in me wants to believe such an idea, but until the quality of alternative choices is assured, that is the risk parents unknowingly take.


The dismal results for Ohio’s voucher program are startling.  These students, unlike those in Florida, must participate in state assessments, so the results are comparable between Ohio public and private schools.  Ohio private school teachers must be certified.  While students with vouchers in Ohio are primarily low income minority students, they are relatively less disadvantaged and higher achieving than those students who qualify for vouchers but do not use them.  Why did they do poorly?  This carefully done study matched students based on prior achievement.  Nevertheless,

students eligible for vouchers but who remained in public schools tended to improve more academically.

The study has caveats.  Only public schools just below or just above the state cutoff for ‘low performing’ were included in the analysis.  The impact of differences in curriculum between public and private schools was not part of the analysis.  The overall quality of the private schools in the study was not evaluated.  Thus, differences in curriculum and school quality may account for the results.

Figlio and Karbownik rue the negative results for students with vouchers who attend private school.  They assert, however, that competition and choice incentivize public schools to work harder and thus they do better than private schools.  They also argue that, despite poor results, lawmakers should resist over regulation of the private sector.

The authors do recommend:

  • better transparency in reporting achievement results for private schools.
  • improved accountability by using achievement gain scores that are more poverty neutral so that students’ family backgrounds do not explain student achievement.  Test scores correlate so closely with family income levels that the amount of improvement is a better indicator of school quality than students’ average achievement level.

Over and over I ask myself, what is the purpose of educational choice?  Are schools supposed to create ’boutique programs’ that reflect a particular group’s goals and values, or are they supposed to expose children to alternatives that more realistically reflect the society in which they will function as adults?  They is no single answer to these questions, but there is an implied set of values that are reflected in the choices parents make for themselves and their children.

For many, the struggle over educational choice is an extension of the perpetual and important tension between individual rights and the public good.  Going too far in either direction creates a whole new set of unacceptable choices.  At one extreme, schools are all private, and parents must accept that schools will choose the children they want; parents take what they can get.  At the other extreme, schools treat everyone the same even though some need individualized approaches to learning.  We need a balance, but we are in a fight over extremes.

Florida’s legislature is poised to greatly expand spending on tax credit scholarships and vouchers.  Ohio knows the damage done with vouchers.  Florida does not want to know.  The legislature does not require the same assessments and accountability for private schools receiving public money as public schools.




Posted in Civil Rights, Florida, Ohio, Public Education, Reform, Tax credit scholarships, Vouchers.

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