The Impact of Ohio???s EdChoice on Traditional Public School Performance

Rigorous school-voucher studies abound, with
most research measuring the achievement effects of vouchers for students who
use them. This study by CATO’s Matthew Carr—the first of its kind to
investigate Ohio’s EdChoice
Scholarship
program—takes a different tack. It examines whether traditional
public schools are spurred to improve in the face of a threat of losing students to private schools—if competition itself
“creates incentives for systemic improvements.” To test this, Carr analyzed
fourth- and sixth-grade reading and math achievement data on low-performing
EdChoice-eligible schools over three academic years (2005-06, 2006-07, and
2007-08). The results were mixed. While fourth-grade math and sixth-grade math
and reading scores remained the same, Carr found the voucher threat correlated
with significant achievement gains in fourth-grade reading (the equivalent of
2,200 extra students reaching proficiency). What’s most significant about this
finding is that Carr’s analysis controls for (among other things) the “scarlet
letter” effect—i.e., did schools improve not because of the voucher threat but
rather because of the stigma
associated with receiving a highly publicized poor rating from the state? (For
the stat-heads in the bunch, Carr’s methods are worth a scan.) Further, while
fourth-grade reading gains were significant, they didn’t come from the “bubble
kids”—those just below the proficiency cut-off; rather, students in the lowest
and highest performing categories made gains. Though its findings don’t
constitute a grand slam for voucher proponents, the report is welcome—especially
as EdChoice adds another 15,000 students to its eligible roster
.

Matthew Carr, “The Impact of
Ohio’s EdChoice on Traditional Public School Performance
." CATO Journal Spring/Summer
2011.

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