Ohio Woes: Private School Voucher Program Shows No Signs Of Academic Improvement
A new study on Ohio’s private school voucher program shows promise – for anyone who thinks vouchers are a bad idea. But another negative study hasn’t led “school choice” advocates to back down.
Ohio’s Educational Choice Scholarship Program has been around statewide since the 2006-2007 academic year. What started as a pilot program available to students in school districts that were deemed poor performerseventually expanded to allow any low-income students to receive a voucher regardless of how their public school fared.
Starting next year, eligible students may take up to $6,000 in taxpayer money and use it to attend private schools – including religious ones. Although the program could cost the state up to $94.6 million, the Columbus Dispatch reported that roughly 40,000 vouchers went unused last year. (Gee, maybe most Ohio parents don’t actually want vouchers for their kids?)
Given that the program has been around for over a decade and has grown significantly, one might think it is a success. It’s not.
Ohio private school voucher students performed worse than their public-school peers on state tests.
A study conducted by two researchers at Northwestern University on behalf of a pro-voucher think tank revealed that students who used vouchers to attend private schools actually did much worse on state tests than their public-school peers.
Given those poor results, the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, which paid for the study, needed something to show for its effort. So it came up with a far-fetched idea that Ohio’s private school vouchers are helping students whodon’t use them.
The “evidence” for that claim consists entirely of the fact that public school students who were voucher-eligible but did not actually receive a voucher have performed better on tests in recent years and draws the conclusion that the competition from the voucher program pushed these schools to do better.
Talk about grasping at straws! To a pro-voucher think tank, there are apparently no coincidences or unrelated events.
“EdChoice modestly improved the achievement of the public-school students who were eligible for a voucher but did not use it,” the study claims. “The competition associated with the introduction of EdChoice appears to have spurred these public-school improvements.”
(Gee, got any data proving that connection?)
A Fordham Institute official offered a sober analysis of the program.
“The disappointing participant results, albeit with a limited number of students, raises questions that deserve further exploration,” Chad Aldis, vice president for Ohio policy and advocacy at Fordham, said in a statement. “This isn’t the final word on the EdChoice program, but this suggests that further study on participating students' achievement test data and long-term outcomes would be wise.”
The reality is, studies consistently show that vouchers don’t work. Here at Americans United, we oppose “school choice” because these schemes are often little more than a government bailout for religious schools. But vouchers also consistently fail to improve student academic performance, as this latest study shows, and schools that accept them are frequently of poor quality and lack oversight.