The More Things Change Buried Lede?

Overall, voucher research shows both positive and negative outcomes. On the one hand, means-tested voucher programs provide new choices for families with very limited options, and those families receiving vouchers tend to be happy with their choices. In addition, many students who attend private schools using vouchers undoubtedly gain an academic benefit.

On the other hand, the research shows that on average these voucher recipients show little or no academic benefit as measured by standardized exams. Further, the research shows that even for means-tested voucher programs, the policies often result in stratification, with parents in voucher families tending to be more educated. Moreover, the transaction costs of a full-scale voucher program may make voucher plans more costly than other, more educationally potent alternatives.

Who said it? Alex Molnar, all the way at the bottom of this Ed Week essay.

7 Replies to “The More Things Change Buried Lede?”

  1. I guess that quarter of a million Molnar rakes in from the NEA each year colors his reading of the research.

  2. Columbia meta-analysis of the research:

    “Outcomes are separated into those relating to academic test scores, graduation/attainment,
    expenditures/efficiency, teacher quality, wages, and house prices.

    The sampling strategy identifies over 41 empirical studies testing the effects of competition. A sizable majority of these studies report beneficial effects of competition across all outcomes, with many reporting statistically significant correlations.”

  3. Uhhh, bottom line.

    no evidence that school choice results in better student outcomes.


    some schools of choice seem to be better, and can we tease out the mechanisms that make some schools better than others?

  4. File under “No shame”:

    And the next two sentences from the “Columbia meta-analysis” (note the reliance on institutional prestige) mentioned a few comments above:

    “The positive gains from competition are modest in scope with respect to realistic changes in levels of competition. The review also notes several methodological challenges and recommends caution in reasoning from point estimates to public policy.”

    Point estimates, cross-sectional data….A glowing endorsement indeed. Also, this meta-analysis makes no attempt to look at the possible negative consequences of choice like further stratification and segregation.

  5. Molnar is a veteran of the voucher wars in Milwaukee. The program there gives free and reduced lunch eligible inner city kids (mostly African Americans) the chance to attend private schools. The inevitable result of this is a reduction in racial segregation, but Molnar moves the goal posts and is now worried about “stratification.”

    The control group studies performed on Milwaukee show not that the voucher program turns low-income urban kids into Einsteins over night. What it does do is to keep them at grade level, which the control group (lottery losers) take the sad slide down washout lane of falling further and further behind with each passing grade (the normal course for low-income urban students in public schools).

    Molnar should let us know when he comes up with an education intervention that accomplishes this while making use of existing resources.

  6. I taught in a Milwaukee voucher school and I wasn’t there long enough to attest to standardized test scores. I can tell you that students benefited just on a personal level from being at a smaller school with teachers who (mostly) wanted to work with “kids like them” and had high expectations for their achievement. These students were so underprepared when they got to us that I think it’s a big achievement that they got to grade level, actually.

    So just from the human side, vouchers were a good idea for many of our students.

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