This letter to the editor appeared in the Columbus Dispatch on
A recent Dispatch editorial, “Many
questions,” stated that advocates of private-school choice “should be able to
show that students who go to private schools using vouchers do better than
their peers who remain at the public schools they left. So far, no one has
collected such data.”
While better data certainly are
needed, what we have now can tell us if the kids receiving vouchers are doing
better or worse than their peers who stay behind. The limited data available
from the Ohio Department of Education allows researchers and others to compare
the academic performance of students using an EdChoice voucher to those
students who remain in voucher-eligible public school buildings, on a
single-year, snapshot basis. (We can’t get at value-added growth or growth over
The results for Ohio’s “Big 8”
districts (from which the majority of voucher students hail) are encouraging
for school-choice supporters. Overall, the available data show us that a
majority of students using vouchers are outperforming their peers in voucher-eligible
In cities such as Dayton and
Youngstown, where public-school performance has languished for years, students
who use vouchers outperform the kids from the public schools. Voucher students
in Columbus outperform their peers in every subject and grade except one, and
in some cases do so by a significant margin.
Eighth-grade voucher students
outperform students in the schools they left behind by 31.9 percentage points
in reading and 18.3 percentage points in math. These results are an improvement
from last year, when Columbus voucher students bested their home schools in
only eight tested grades and subjects.
But, are children who receive
vouchers doing better academically because of the impact of their new schools
on their learning, or are the children doing better because some of the highest
performing children are leaving the district schools?
To get at this, Ohio needs a
data-rich system of accountability for all publicly funded students that will
report not just a snapshot of raw achievement for one year, but rather how
schools and students are performing over time.
Only in this fashion can we start
to get at questions about which schools work and which don’t.