One of the arguments which opponents of school choice always make is that it would adversely affect the public school system. Opponents claim that the alternative schools would siphon off the best students, leaving those who remain who are the least able and the poorest and most disadvantaged students. Just as all of the rest of the arguments which opponents have made have proven false, so also has this argument.
The Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice and several other Ohio and national organizations have conducted a study of the public schools which have been affected by Ohio’s Educational Choice Scholarship program. It turns out that the threat of competition and losing students is causing these public schools to improve their academic outcomes.
Robert Enlow, Executive Director of the Indianapolis-based Friedman Foundation, said, “While the purpose of the Edchoice Program is to allow students from chronically distressed public schools to attend private schools, our research indicates that those underperforming public schools are showing improvement as well. This study helps refute the notion, often cited by school-choice critics, that voucher programs harm public schools.”
The study is the first empirical analysis examining the effects of Ohio’s Edchoice voucher program, enacted by the Ohio State Legislature in 2005. Students began to use vouchers for the 2006-2007 academic year. The program provides up to 14,000 Edchoice scholarships to eligible students currently attending a public school that has been designated in Academic Emergency or Academic Watch for two of the past three years are eligible to apply for vouchers.
Enlow said “something wonderful and positive” is happening in these under-performing public schools which have lost students to vouchers.
Among the key findings of the study were:
In 2006-2007, the first year of operation, the Edchoice program produced “substantial academic improvements” in Ohio’s most stubbornly underperforming public schools. Positive effects were detected in three grades, with no negative effect detected in any of the other seven grades studied.
The positive effects were substantial in size, although not revolutionary. Enlow said if the effects accumulate over time, in three to four years the public schools studied will have improved by one standard deviation (equal to one sixth of the distance between the top scoring and bottom scoring schools in Ohio).
When the analysis was repeated using only schools located in districts designated by the State as “major urban-very high poverty,” the results were virtually unchanged. This suggests that the results of the analysis are consistent between school types.
Finally, the Edchoice program was more restricted in its first year of operation than it is today. Since previous research suggests that the positive impact of vouchers on public school increases when the programs grow, it is reasonable to expect to expect that the program’s current benefits probably exceed those detected in this study.
The study was authored by Friedman Foundation Fellow Greg Foster. It adds to a large body of other research material which finds that vouchers improve the outcomes in public schools. Vouchers, the Friedman Foundation contends, allow families to choose schools to meet their children’s needs and introduce competitive incentive for improvement that are lacking in the traditional government-run education system. Five Ohio organizations, including School Choice Ohio and four national organizations including Agudath Israel of America and the Hispanic Council for Reform and Educational Options, sponsored the study.
Paul M. Weyrich is Chairman and CEO of the Free Congress Foundation.