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

Rigorous studies have been conducted on various school
voucher programs – most notably those in Milwaukee, the District of Columbus,
and Florida – but this study by CATO’s Matthew Carr is the first of its kind to
study Ohio’s EdChoice
program. Specifically, it examines whether traditional public
schools are spurred to improve in the face of a threat of losing students to private schools. It does not examine
whether vouchers are effective for students who use them but rather
investigates a key school choice theory: whether competition “creates
incentives for systemic improvements.”

To test this, Carr collected achievement data from the Ohio
Department of Education on EdChoice-eligible schools over three distinct time
periods beginning in 2006 (note, eligibility changed multiple times), which
creates a unique research design in that there are three “treatment” periods
enabling analyses of whether each school changed its own behavior in response
to the voucher threat. (In contrast, other studies have compared fundamentally
different types of schools, eligible v. non-eligible schools.)

The study measured school improvement by looking at fourth-
and sixth-grade reading and math scores; and the percent of students scoring at
various levels (limited, proficient, advanced) to gauge the extent to which
schools under threat focused on “bubble students” (those just above and below
the proficiency cut-off and upon whom a school’s rating depends most
heavily).  It also controlled for factors
such as school quality (rating on A-F scale), and percent of students who are
white, disadvantaged, and/or disabled. Unique to this study (and impressive) is
that Carr manages to tease out 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?

Several significant findings emerged. The voucher threat was
correlated with a achievement gains in fourth grade reading (the equivalent of
2200 extra students reaching proficiency) and this did not result primarily
from stigma. Second, performance among bubble students didn’t shift much;
rather, students in the lowest and highest performing categories made gains.
Carr theorizes that voucher-threatened schools may have focused on those
students most likely to exit, and calls for more research in this area.


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

CATO Institute
Matthew Carr
August 2011

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