Term Paper: Educational Vouchers: Multiple Issues

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[. . .] More than two-thirds of high school students either dropped or failed out before graduation. Of those students who managed to reach their senior year, one of every four still failed to graduate. Of those students who did graduate, few could read, write, or compute at levels comparable to their counterparts in other cities

(Zelman, et al., v. Simmons-Harris et al., 2002).

As to the Court's rejection of the church vs. state, the Rehnquist view (for the majority) was that, though it was indeed government money going into voucher parents' hands and then into the hands of religious schools, it was not government money going directly to religious schools. It was a case "...in which government aid reaches religious schools only as a result of the genuine and independent choices of private individuals," he said. Justice David H. Souter, who dissented along with his 3 Democrat colleagues, said (ABC, 2002): "There is...no way to interpret the 96.6% of current voucher money going to religious schools as reflecting a free and genuine choice by the families that apply for vouchers." Richard Decolibus, president of the Cleveland teachers' union, claimed the June, 2002 decision will "set a battle between religious interest and public school interest in every state capital in the nation" (ABC, 2002).

New York City Voucher System

Meanwhile, the School Choice Scholarship Foundation (SCSF) in New York City is in its 5th year, and like other statistical reporting on voucher projects it has seen mixed messages. Three years into the privately financed program (Education Week, Feb. 27, 2002) studies by Mathematica and Harvard (Mathematica, 2002) showed African-American students scored 5.5 percentile points higher in composite test scores for math and reading, than black students in public schools who did not receive a scholarship. That promising gain, however, was balanced with the fact that composite test scores of Latino students who received scholarships showed little or no difference from those Latinos who did not get into the voucher scholarship program. While other statistical data was available from the Mathematica research of SCSF - 64% of scholarship parents say their kids had an hour of homework a night; 41% of parents of non-scholarship students say their children had an hour homework - there is a dearth of hard, cold, factual, empirical data showing great gains from vouchers, or a lack of gains. Like the Supreme Court decision, the thumbs up tend to be conservatives, while thumbs down on vouchers tends to be liberals and unions.

Positive Results in Charlotte

While the New York experiment is still being analyzed, there are some encouraging results from the voucher program in Charlotte, South Carolina.

Three hundred eighty-eight students from low-income families received $1,700 each to attend private schools, grades 2 through 8. After the 1999-2000 school year, they were tested using the Iowa Test of Basic Skills (Greene, 2001). The results show that students who used a scholarship scored 5.9 percentile points higher on math in the ITBS than comparable students who chose to remain in public schools. Also, voucher students scored 6.5 percentile points higher in reading than their public school counterparts. According to Jay Greene, who conducted the research in Charlotte, "On average, a scholarship raised students from the 30th percentile to the 37th percentile." And that is significant, he added. Plus, the surveys showed that parental approval of private schools was very high.

Florida's Vouchers: Punish Schools That Fail

In Florida, besides all the sunshine and beaches, they have failing schools, and a punitive program to embarrass those schools (Section 229.0537). It's called the "A+ Program" (Snell, 2002). The state "grades" schools on a scale of A - F. Students attending schools that receive an "F" for two straight years are in effect paid to walk away to private schools. And when students leave, the school is docked a chunk of state money in that student's absence. In school year 1900-2000, 78 Florida schools received failing grades (based upon cumulative test scores). One problem with putting so much emphasis on test scores - and this is universal, not just a Florida problem - is that teachers and administrators may begin a campaign to "teach to the test," and not teach kids how to think and learn (WEAC, 2002). When an already struggling, run-down school faces the loss of revenue based on poor test scores, it doesn't take rocket science to conjecture that "teaching to the test" plays a role in survival. In fairness to Florida, though, none of the schools who scored an "F" in the first year repeated that failure in the second. As to the results of how voucher students' succeeded academically, little empirical data is available at this time.

Washington D.C. Vouchers Showed Gains for Blacks voucher program that began in 1993 in the nation's capitol, which gave $1,700 to low income families, and which received an infusion of millions of dollars from an unnamed philanthropist, showed gains for Blacks after a 3-year period. In fact, African-Americans scored 6.2 higher in math (overall, on composite averaging) than their peers in public schools in the non-voucher control group. And, blacks scored 6.3 percentile points higher in reading as compared with non-voucher control group students. Indeed, the largest test-score differences between African-American students in private schools and African-American students in public schools, in any of the studies of voucher programs, were observed in the D.C. program. Black students who attended D.C. private schools for two years scored 9.0 percentile points higher on the two tests combined than did students in the control group. The downside of the survey was - and this is much like the research on the New York City and Dayton, Ohio program - that while African-Americans showed gains, Latinos and students of other ethnic heritages did not show gains.


Will voucher programs emerge as a viable, successful and fair alternative to public schools? Will vouchers be good for education in the long run? Is it morally and ethically fair - notwithstanding the Supreme Court's pro-voucher decision - that the Roman Catholic Church should profit from the issuance of vouchers? Those questions are pivotal yet unanswered. Clearly, some voucher programs have shown signs of helping low income parents educate their children in school environments free from drugs, violence, and gangs. But what will be the cost to financially strapped public schools if more and more tax money is drained from their coffers? Even the privately financed voucher programs (New York City, Washington D.C., and elsewhere) end up costing public schools in lost revenue.

Immediately after the U.S. Supreme Court's decision favoring vouchers (June 27, 2002) the head of the teacher's union in Cleveland, Richard Decolibus, remarked: "I think it will be enormously harmful and very divisive. The reality of the matter is the only place these religious schools are going to be able to get the tuition money from is by raiding the public school treasury."

Even the research on voucher studies is clouded with confusion and mixed messages - and generally speaking the "pro" side has one interpretation while the "anti" group has theirs. "Spin doctors" abound, as they do in any political-charged American social issue.

Meantime, the researcher who has likely put his political science microscope on more studies and surveys of studies than any "expert" anywhere, is Kevin B. Smith of the University of Nebraska. He went through the General Accounting Office's (GAO) 23 studies of voucher programs in Milwaukee, Cleveland, and elsewhere, with a fine-toothed comb. In all, Smith studied nearly 500 published research manuscripts of voucher programs. His conclusion? "...Choice and voucher programs are not, as some have claimed, a 'panacea' to the challenges faced by public education." He added, that "...though these programs [for disadvantaged groups] have a real potential upside...the empirical record shows them to be a mixed bag." [See "Table 1" reflecting Smith's research of the research.]


ABC News (June 27, 2002). [Online] "Divided Court: Voucher Program Victory http://abcnews.go.com/sections/us/DailyNews/scotus_vouchers020627.html.

American Federation of Teachers (2002). [Online] "Report Reveals Right-Wing Backers of BAEO" "Milwaukee Vouchers Cost Twice the Tuition Amount Charged Non-Voucher Students http://www.aft.org/research/vouchers/.

Friedman Foundation (2002). [Online] "School Choice Works http://www.friedmanfoundation.org/schoolchoiceworks/schoolchoiceresearch.html.

Greene, Jay P. (2002). [Online] "Vouchers in Charlotte" Education Next Magazine http://www.educationnext.org/20012/46greene.html.

Howell, William G., & Peterson, Paul E. (2002). The Education Gap: Vouchers and Urban Schools. Washington D.C.: Brookings Institutional Press.

Jennings, Jack (2000). [Online] "School Voucher Debate Gets an Incomplete" The Center on Education Policy http://www.ctredpol.org/vouchers/.

Metcalf, Kim K., Beghetto, Ronald, & Legan, Natalie A. (2002). [Online] "Interpreting Voucher Research: The Influence of Multiple Comparison Groups and Types" Indiana Center for Evaluation http://www.publicpolicyforum.org/josh/metcalf.pdf.

Neas, Ralph G. (2001). [Online] "10 Years and Counting: A Closer Look at the Cleveland Voucher Program" People for the American Way http://www.pfaw.org.

North Carolina State University (2001). "Educational Contributions of Horace Mann" Department of Agricultural and Extension Education, College of Agricultural and Life Sciences http://www.cals.ncsu.edu/agexed/aee501/mann.html.

Peterson, Paul E., Mayer, Daniel P., Myers, David E., Tuttle,… [END OF PREVIEW]

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