Voucher student performance promising, better data needed

Ohio currently has a basket full of
publicly funded, private-school voucher programs, making it unique in America’s
school choice landscape. Ohio has three separate programs for students in failing
districts, students with autism, and students living in Cleveland. A voucher
program for students with disabilities launches next year. Further, the
EdChoice Scholarship program (which provides private school scholarships for
students in failing public schools) was recently expanded to 30,000
scholarships statewide this school year and 60,000 next year.

A new choice bill is now being
debated in the House that would vastly expand the number of students eligible
to receive a voucher. HB 136
would create the Parental Choice and Taxpayer Scholarship (PACT) Program and
give children who come from families with annual incomes of up to $62,000 a
year a voucher worth up to $4,563. Furthermore, 25 percent of families in the
state could be eligible for smaller vouchers awarded on a sliding scale for
families with incomes up to $95,000. This expansive
growth in school choice options via vouchers is contentious to say the least.

A myriad of opinions offering both
support and opposition to the expansion of vouchers have been voiced over the
past several months (see Terry’s
recent op-ed
here); however, one criticism in particular warrants a
response. An October 12 Columbus Dispatch
“Many Questions,” stated that “advocates 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 are certainly needed, what we have now is telling.

With the limited data available
from the Ohio Department of Education (we can’t get at value-added growth or
growth over time) we are able 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, snap-shot basis.  

The results for Ohio’s “Big 8” districts (from which
the majority of voucher students hail) are encouraging for school-choice
supporters. The chart below provides a one-year snapshot for the performance of
EdChoice students in Columbus versus students in voucher-eligible district
schools. Voucher students outperform their peers in every subject and grade
except one, and in some cases do so by a significant margin. Particularly,
voucher students’ performance in the eighth grade is strong. Eighth-grade
voucher students outperform their district peers by 31.9 percentage points in
reading and 18.3 percentage points in math. These results are an improvement to
a similar analysis we performed last
year in which voucher students in Columbus out-performed their district peers
in eight tested grades and subjects.

Chart 1: Columbus EdChoice Students vs. Voucher
Eligible Students
Chart 1 Columbus.jpg

Source: The Ohio Department of Education

The results are also positive in Fordham’s hometown of

Chart 1: Dayton EdChoice Students vs. Voucher Eligible
Chart 2 - Dayton .jpg

Source: The Ohio Department of Education

Last year, voucher students outperformed their
district peers in seven of fourteen academic tests in Dayton. Perhaps most
encouraging is the fact that they are outperforming their district peers in
third grade reading by 22.4 percentage points (see Emmy’s piece above on the
importance of early reading proficiency).

While voucher performance in Columbus and Dayton, is
positive the same cannot be said for Canton. District students outperform
voucher students in Canton in every subject and grade, and in the case of
fourth-grade math they do so by 37 percentage points. These results are
somewhat of an anomaly (voucher students in the remaining Big 8 districts
perform fairly well comparatively), but it is still worth noting that while
voucher students’ performance is strong in some urban cities, it is not necessarily
the case for all.

The results are mixed, but overall a majority of
students using vouchers are outperforming their peers who remain in traditional
district schools. Reading proves to be an area of strength for students using
vouchers in the Big 8 – in Cincinnati, for example, students using vouchers
outperformed their district peers in reading in every grade. The Dispatch argued that if advocates of
vouchers could show that voucher students are performing at higher levels than
their district peers, such programs should continue.

While the data available for an analysis of this type are
limited to one year snapshots, the data we do have has shown that in fact
voucher students are performing well, and that in cities like Dayton and
Youngstown, where traditional public school performance has languished years,
vouchers appear to be a good option for the children using them. The lack of
data available, however, is a yet another clear call for why Ohio needs a
system of accountability for all publicly funded students that will not just
show us raw achievement data for one year, but rather how schools, and
students, are performing over time. Until such a system is created and put in
place it is difficult to really tell what impact vouchers are having on student
learning in the long run but what we can see now is that children using
vouchers outperform those who stay in their district schools.

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