The Evidence on School Vouchers

Here is a letter I submitted to the Philadelphia Daily News to correct some “facts” about school choice:

Elmer Smith’s column denouncing a school choice proposal makes a number of claims about voucher programs that are false, and others that undermine his conclusion. Smith writes “There is no credible evidence that the achievement of public- or private-school students has been improved by the availability of vouchers.” Smith is either ill-informed or dishonest.

Nine of the ten “gold standard” evaluations of voucher programs reported statistically significant gains in achievement for all or some voucher recipients. In 18 out of 19 academically rigorous studies, vouchers had a positive impact on public school districts. There has never been a single study demonstrating that voucher harmed either voucher students or public schools.

Smith claims Milwaukee’s voucher program has been a failure, yet voucher students showed significant learning gains in math and reading. Voucher students graduated at a rate 18 percent higher than district students. And five empirical studies looked at how the voucher program affected Milwaukee’s public schools-all five found a positive effect.

Finally, Smith claims D.C. voucher students showed “modest” improvement (including being 21 percent more likely to graduate, and gaining 3.7 months of additional reading level per year over public school peers). That is to say: vouchers improved performance! And they did so despite costing only one-fourth the per-pupil cost of D.C.’s public schools.

Everywhere, vouchers and tax credit scholarships cost less than traditional public schools, and they improve performance of recipients and public schools. Choice may not be the “silver bullet” but armed with real evidence, there can be no doubt choice is needed in our education system.