Do Private School Vouchers
Improve Academic Outcomes?
While voucher programs and tax credit scholarships operate on the premise that private schools provide a better educational experience than public schools, there is little data to show that vouchers improve student outcomes.
The most recent research on the academic impact of private school vouchers finds that voucher students do not experience gains, and, in fact, frequently experience significant losses in achievement. Read more here.
Long-term studies of voucher programs in Milwaukee3, the oldest private school voucher program in the United States, found no advantage in academic achievement. Milwaukee’s voucher program, which began in 1990, was providing over 25,000 vouchers annually by 2014. Because Milwaukee requires its voucher students to take the same Wisconsin state tests used in the public schools, a comparison of private school voucher students and public school students is available. Performance results from the 2013-2014 school year showed slightly lower proficiency rates for voucher students in both math and reading as compared to their public school peers4.
Similar studies in Cleveland5 and the District of Columbia6 drew the same conclusions. Ten years of longitudinal data (from 2003-2013) on Ohio’s voucher program found significantly lower achievement for voucher students as compared to public school peers in Math and Reading.7
- “Academic Accountability: How Do ESAs Measure Up?“, 2017.
- Center on Education Policy, “Keeping Informed About School Vouchers: A Review of Major Developments and Research,” 2011.
- A 2018 study of longitudinal data from the nation’s largest voucher program in Indiana, found that voucher students had “substantial average achievement loss” in math and no significant difference in English language arts compared to their public school peers. Because public and private school students in Indiana take the same assessments, this study allows “apples-to-apples comparisons of student achievement outcomes.” See “Impact of the Indiana Choice Scholarship Program: Achievement Effects for Students in Upper Elementary and Middle School,” Journal of Policy Analysis and Management, August 2018.
In a 2017 report, “School vouchers are not a proven strategy for improving student achievement,” the nonpartisan Economic Policy Institute found: “In the only area in which there is evidence of small improvements in voucher schools – in high school graduation and college enrollment rates – there are no data to show whether the gains are the result of schools shedding lower-performing students or engaging in positive practices. Also, high school graduation rates have risen sharply in public schools across the board in the last 10 years, with those increases much larger than the small effect estimate on graduation rates from attending a voucher school.” Regarding student achievement, the report concludes, “In the few cases in which test scores increased, other factors, namely increased public accountability, not private school comparison, seem to be the more likely drivers.”
3 Comprehensive Longitudinal Evaluation of the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program: Summary of Fourth Year Reports, 2011
4 Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction, 2014
5 The Evidence on Education Vouchers: An Application to the Cleveland Scholarship and Tutoring Program, City University of New York, 2006, commissioned by the National Canter for the Study of Privatization in Education.
6 Evaluation of the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program: Final Report, University of Arkansas and Georgetown University, 2010, commissioned by the U.S. Department of Education
7 Evaluation of Ohio’s EdChoice Scholarship Program, Thomas B. Fordham Institute, July 2016 See report