Friday, January 29, 2016

School voucher program failing Louisiana students

Click to access the study.
A new study from the private, non-partisan National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) finds Louisiana’s school voucher program actually resulted in lower academic achievement for children in low-income families. The study, issued in December, shows that students attending a private school in the Louisiana Scholarship Program (LSP) increased their likelihood of failing math by 50 percent.

“Voucher effects for reading, science, and social studies are also negative and large,” the researchers wrote. “The negative impacts of vouchers are consistent across income groups, geographic areas, and private school characteristics, and are larger for younger children.”

In fact, LSP participation was found to shift the distribution of scores downward in all four subjects examined, increasing the likelihood of a failing score by between 24 and 50 percent. The findings are particularly significant because voucher programs are often touted as an effective alternative to public education, particularly by those who claim that private schools offer a superior education.

To date, evidence on the effects of school vouchers has been mixed, however, according to the report.

“Together, these ļ¬ndings [research, to date, including this latest study] suggest that voucher programs typically produce small effects on student outcomes, but these effects may vary with the features of the program under study,” the authors concluded.

The LSP program includes 7,110 Louisiana students from 121 participating schools. The average voucher value of the state program is $5,856 in 2015–16.

“These results suggest caution in the design of voucher systems aimed at expanding school choice for disadvantaged students,” researchers wrote. “Nonetheless, the evolution of choice behavior and program effects over time is an important question for future research.”

Enrollment levels for the Louisiana voucher schools have dropped fast.

The study was conducted by NBER, a private, non-profit, non-partisan organization founded in 1920 and dedicated to conducting economic research and to disseminating research findings among academics, public policy makers, and business professionals. The organization can boast that 25 Nobel Prize winners in economics and 13 past chairs of the President’s Council of Economic Advisers have been researchers at the NBER. One of its key focus areas includes analyzing the effects of public policies. 

The new NBER working paper on the Louisiana voucher program is available here.