Study finds some success with vouchers

Students using vouchers in Washington D.C. have made small gains in reading, but no real improvements in math, according to a new study from the U.S. Department of Education.

The biggest gains were among students who left schools that were not failing under No Child Left Behind. Students who used vouchers and left the district’s worst schools did not have any significant gains, according to the study.

As expected, voucher opponents dismissed the findings while supporters tout the study as proof that vouchers work.

It’s too soon to tell what impact the study will have on the national debate. But I expect this report will be cited when another voucher bill is filed in January with the Georgia Legislature.

27 comments Add your comment


April 7th, 2009
8:19 am

This study is quickly used as “proof” even though the gains were extremely small. The governor’s office in Georgia patently dismissed the effectiveness of national board certified teachers because the gain demonstrated in their classrooms were small. It makes it very difficult to reason with people who dismiss small gains from one study and celebrate the same kind of small gains in another. Do you think the way they choose research has more to do with politics than with reason?


April 7th, 2009
9:56 am

Perhaps I’m reading something different from the abstract, especially this statement:

>>The group designated as the highest priority by Congress – students applying from “schools in need of improvement” (SINI) – did not experience achievement impacts. <<

How can voucher supporters look at that statement and say that vouchers work? If anything, this statement seems to strengthen the position of voucher opponents.

Key benefit to vouchers

April 7th, 2009
10:23 am

I think people are missing a key point about vouchers. ANYTHING that helps breaks the monolith has the potential to benefit. And make no mistake, public education has become a DYSFUNCTIONAL monolith.


April 7th, 2009
11:12 am

FYI – recent voucher measures in Detroit and California failed by large margins. I also recently read (but couldn’t find again – I hate when that happens) an article about the Detroit voucher program and how some wanted any private school that would take the voucher money to have to meet the same state standards that the public school met – including NCLB. You know that’s going to be a problem, right?

While I like the targeted Special Ed vouchers (which I really believe can SAVE a public school system money), universal vouchers are not the answer – they’ll never work for myriad reasons including but not limited to school and seat availability, issues with separation of church and state, transportation issues for parents, etc.


April 7th, 2009
11:16 am


I guess you are just seeking research that supports your pre-determined beliefs. I think you are a prime example of Tony’s post above.

jim d

April 7th, 2009
11:33 am

Reality 2

Well my pre-determined belief is that Vouchers have been proven successful in the eyes of parents that have been able to take advantage of them. While that stat is not generally provided in the studies and may appear a small benefit, parental satisfaction is most certainly a benefit that needs to be considered.

And as for the DC program in particular–I was under the impression it had been defunded by congress. Yes–No?

Dr. John Trotter

April 7th, 2009
1:01 pm

Some Government/Bureaucratic/Monolithic (if you will) Systems are so low that you would have to scrape them up like silly putty. Any novel program has nowhere to go but up. Ergo, the blips of success on the screen. A State-run voucher program will be no panacea for public education as the charter school has not been. Again, when the onus for learning is put on the teacher instead of the parents/children, then, Houston, we have a problem. When administrators are literally afraid of the parents/children (unlike the environment 40 years ago), then we have a BIG problem. You cannot run a successful public school (or private school, for that matter) when the administrators are running scared. As an administrator, you have to have integrity, supporting teachers when it comes to disciplinary problems and backing them when irresponsible parents wage baseless complaints about grades which their children truly earned (however low these grades are). At MACE, we have been saying for years that the main problems in public education are not the way a school is organized (middle school or jr. high), which teaching methods teachers employed (stand-up didactic approach or seminar type), or the curriculum (how many of us can really remember any of our jr. high curricula?). The Rand Report concluded this in 1976 from a study of the studies. No single variable consistently identified with academic success. Goodlad (of UCLA),in his mega-study of the schooling process in the late 1970s and early 1980s, essentially concluded that school reform cannot be mandated state-wide nor system-wide. School reform and success was contingent on local school leaders. Unfortunately, most of our “leaders” in the public school are really not leaders. Most are what I call “wiesels.” Not much leadership shown. They are either scared of their shadows or they are angry and abusive. This is the real sad state of public education. No leadership. This has been coming on for years. (c) MACE, 2009.


April 7th, 2009
1:27 pm

I think most people miss the real reason families want to use vouchers: to get away from a bad school situation. And not necessarily acacemically! Most parents would be happy to move their child from a school where they fear gangs, drugs, etc., and if the child doesn’t perform better at the new school — that’s fine, at least their out of the cesspool. Schools reflect the neighborhood — schools in iffy neighborhoods can be dealing with a lot of societal issues that have nothing to do with academics.

And forget the private schools — most of them have plenty of applications to choose from, thank you very much. And a voucher wouldn’t make a sizeable dent in the tuition at most private schools around metro Atlanta. I can’t think of any private school that would willingly hook their little red wagon to the falling star that is NCLB — unless it was failing, anyway, and who would want to go there, in that case?


April 7th, 2009
1:34 pm

Yes, the DC voucher program is no longer funded and is being shut down.

Ernest, I agree, that statement is troubling. The study found that students who had never gone to schools in need of improvement (SINI) received a very nice positive impact on their reading skills; whereas, students who had attended SINI schools had no significant change in their reading skills.

This could lead one to argue that student achievement for some students isn’t changed based on their teacher/school environment. The students from the worst schools didn’t improve their performance at ‘better’ schools so maybe the problem isn’t the school?
On the flip side students from decent schools who moved to a ‘preferred’ school improved their performance. So maybe the school does have some impact on the students?

I wish there was data to show if there were situations where a student from a SINI school and a student from a non-SINI school vouchered into the same new school. Did the new school have a similar effect on both students? Or did the school effect the students differently?

Maybe the students from SINI schools took their vouchers and went to schools that they thought were ‘better’, but the schools were still not good. Whereas, students from non-SINI schools did go to a school that was an improvement from their old school. Thus, the non-SINI students got a boost in their education while the SINI students didn’t get any boost.

I just wish they program could continue so they could get more data to determine what is actually happening.

Key benefit to vouchers

April 7th, 2009
1:49 pm

Reality2, I would be happy to document the dysfunction in the public school system, but I have no doubt that a full accounting of such would take up enough bandwidth to completely shut down the Internet world wide.

Going to the source

April 7th, 2009
1:58 pm

When one reads the posts on this thread from MACE, and sees what MACE stands for, instead of what what the AJC claims MACE stands for, you see MACE has a position that is extremely hard to argue with.

Maybe that’s why the AJC hates MACE so much. MACE is willing to take on the sacred cows the AJC wants to protect.


April 7th, 2009
1:59 pm

DB said, “Schools reflect the neighborhood — schools in iffy neighborhoods can be dealing with a lot of societal issues that have nothing to do with academics.” I think this observation is pretty accurate. So, it seems like if we really want to address the issues at those schools, what we need to do is to improve the neighborhood, not just send kids from the neighborhood to some other schools. I don’t think such a move will not alter the fundamental problem these children face. Of course, those who support vouchers really don’t appear to be interested in addressing those social issues.


April 7th, 2009
2:42 pm

Great comments from the GetSchooled bloggers! I doubt that we would be talking about vouchers if more parents ‘perceived’ their home school provided a safe, learning environment for their children. I’ll admit to being torn on this issue because I don’t believe your address should dictate the kind of education one receives. At the same time as DB mentioned, some see vouchers as their only ‘hope’ to escape their current environment, albeit for academic, safety, or environmental reasons.

I also agree with Dr. T that the schoolhouse must be one where there is low tolerance for bad behavior. That should be for school staff and students. I’ve seen situations where good school employees succumb to an environment of low expectations.

As lyncoln indicated, I’m not sure if there is enough data to make a determination of this particular program. I’m also not sure what measurables one would put in place to quantify success or failure. Unfortunately, we don’t have much time to waste as another generation of students will be starting soon….

Voucher advocates not in denial

April 7th, 2009
5:36 pm

It’s not voucher advocates that are in denial about social issues Reality2. That’s why they want vouchers; they know what’s going on. It’s the public schools and the government who are in denial, and more importantly, who lack the resolve to hold the student responsible for the learning, and the parent responsible for the student.

Only when the public schools gain the resolve to hold students responsible for behavior choices and work habits, instead of expecting teachers to address each and every dysfunction the child brings the school, and do so with absolutely no authority to enforce consequences, will we have any real progress.

Until then, can you really blame anyone for wanting more choice in how their education tax dollar is spent?


April 7th, 2009
5:59 pm

Hmmm. A study after just three years running, huh?

Well, the Atlanta Public Schools system’s school board and superintendent put out PR back around 1999 or 2000 claiming it would take three years to turn the system around, to “reform” it. Didn’t happen. Now they claim — actually, they outsourced their claiming to a consultant who now claims for them — that it will take 12-15 years to turn the APS around.

So maybe it will also take 12-15 years for vouchers to become everywhere effective.


April 7th, 2009
6:25 pm

I disagree with most of y’all, but I am a proud John Trotter Dittohead, and I agree with him.

Reality 2

April 7th, 2009
6:28 pm

Maybe voucher advocates are not in denial – they are simply blind.

If the schools are reflections of the neighborhood, then simply letting students attend another school will not solve the problems, will it? We must address the social issues – poverty, broken families, drugs and other crimes, etc.. Otherwise, we are simply trying to treat symptoms at best. It is usually not even trying to treat symptoms – it is simply trying to keep those have-not’s in their places.

Dr. Boris Melinko

April 7th, 2009
6:32 pm

Jeff you are a failed teacher half-wit. No one cares who you agree with.


April 7th, 2009
6:38 pm

Except for enumerated Federal Programs (IDEA, Title I, etc.) ALL financial aid to religious schools in GA in unconstitutional (Ga. Const. Art. I, section II, paragraph VII). So, if a private school is affiliated with a church, a voucher would be unconstitutional. I learned that from my school law professor.


April 7th, 2009
7:00 pm

Why did you delete my last post? Was it because I identified with Dr. John Trotter and what he wrote? Wow, you AJC folk are really biased! The fellow who does 95% of the posts on this blog is the same person…just talking to himself. Come on, Laura, don’t be so biased!


April 7th, 2009
7:11 pm



April 7th, 2009
7:57 pm

Let me put this another way….

Say you’re a businessman who fabricates a product. You have the chance to outsource. It costs you $100 to fabricate a unit of product, but you can outsource it for $30. The quality of the outsourced product will remain the same for some metrics and will improve significantly for others. Your customer satisfaction will also improve significantly. What do you do?

Well, most would say that is a no-brainer, a slam dunk, a win-win. The smart decision would be to outsource.

That is, unless you are in public schools.

There was an article last year that estimated the total cost per student in Washington DC at a whopping $24,600. But yet, they only saw fit to give $7500 per voucher. $7500 will get you into a church type school, but is probably about half of what you need for a second tier private school. Basically, they tried to make vouchers fail by underfunding it. Didn’t work.

Public school educrats look at this report and say that vouchers are a failure. I look at it and ask why the private sector can do as good or better for 1/3 the cost.


April 7th, 2009
7:58 pm


April 7th, 2009
9:36 pm


FWIW I believe those numbers are skewed higher because of ‘choices’ the citizens of DC made. They operated an inefficient school system, with several schools having around 200-300 students. Rhee closed several schools and fired quite a few employees hence that number should be significantly lower.

The challenge I see with vouchers is that we could not determine how much to allocate for each student. It costs more money to educate special needs students that regular ed however all the numbers that are presented are ‘average’ costs. If the average cost is $8,000/student, it may only cost $6,000 to educate your child versus $10,000 for mine. If you are given the average cost for your child, there is now less money in the public school to educate mine.

Public schools also must take all comers, regardless of each students circumstances. They cannot ‘pick and choose’ as private schools have the ability to do. Would vouchers result in a ’skimming’ effect’, leaving students that lack strong parental involvement behind?

I’ll admit again to being torn about vouchers because I believe a good eduction is the best stimulus we can offer our country. Seeing the stats regarding students leveraging vouchers from NI school is scary.


April 7th, 2009
10:41 pm

Lee – not all students are created equal – Federal regulations practically guarantee that even the best public school is going to have a higher per student overall average than a private school. Forget about the obvious such as transportation (which many private schools don’t offer), lunch (and breakfast for some), and the cost of the physical plant upkeep and utilities (often significantly bigger than many private schools).

Instead, look at a SPED, ESOL, or gifted student – they have smaller class size mandates, to start. Many schools have gone to a co-teaching model for SPED and ESOL – two fully-certified teachers, not paras – in the room together – that just doubled the individual cost of every kid in that room. Many students have additional needs such as speech therapy. Gifted students often have more money allotted to them to improve their educational experience. Then we have the behavior problems who have to go to ISS – you are already all too aware that that costs a school more money. If your child doesn’t fall into one of those categories, then it’s probably costing less than that average amount to educate him or her.

Private schools do it better by not offering as much – fewer services – fewer amenities. They are usually in smaller buildings. They don’t pay their staff as much – and the staff is often smaller. They often don’t have bus service or food service. They probably don’t have ISS – they don’t have to – they can ask a child to leave much easier.

I know when the Georgia legislature was looking at vouchers, they were planning on only providing a voucher that covered the state’s amount per child – not federal money, not local money. Maybe the DC case was something along those lines – I don’t know. I do know that $24,000 is absolutely infathomable – even given the items I mentioned.

We absolutely need to be looking at the cost of public education – particularly in these times – but we need to be looking at the big picture, too. Someone’s whose child isn’t being served byt the special classes, or taking advantage of certain facilities isn’t going to be aware of where all the money is going.

shiwamski, phd

April 8th, 2009
1:41 am

boris: you were at fool in the gulag… are more a fool today in georgia…. you are here illegally….fake “dr” molenko. leave jeffery alone. you are mean, boris molenko.


April 8th, 2009
3:24 am