Panel: Overall and Heterogeneous Effects of School Choice Programs

Thursday, November 8, 2018: 10:15 AM-11:45 AM
Hoover - Mezz Level (Marriott Wardman Park)

*Names in bold indicate Presenter

Panel Chairs:  Stephen Q. Cornman, U.S. Department of Education
Discussants:  Rob Olsen, Westat and Austin Nichols, Abt Associates, Inc.

Cream Skimming and Push out of Voucher Students in Indiana
Joseph Waddington1, Ron Zimmer1 and Mark Berends2, (1)University of Kentucky, (2)University of Notre Dame

Overall and Heterogeneous Effects of the DC Opportunity Scholarship Program
Ning Rui1, Mark Dynarski2, Ann Webber1 and Babette Gutmann1, (1)Westat, (2)Pemberton Research

Overall and Heterogeneous Achievement Effects of the Louisiana Scholarship Program over Time
Patrick J. Wolf, Jonathan N. Mills and Matthew Lee, University of Arkansas

Unpacking the Variation in Voucher Outcomes for Upper Elementary and Middle School Students in Indiana
Joseph Waddington, University of Kentucky and Mark Berends, University of Notre Dame

School quality has long been perceived as an important component of human capital (Hanushek & Kimko, 2000, Lee & Barro, 2001). However, inequalities in school resources and academic achievement continue to persist in America’s educational system. The most recent National Assessment of Education Progress (NAEP) results show a widening achievement gap between students at the top and bottom of the achievement spectrum (National Center for Education Statistics, 2018). Many minority and low-income students are faced with constrained school choices compared to their peers from higher socio-economic strata. Since the early 1980’s, numerous attempts have been made to increase school choice, especially for students from disadvantaged backgrounds. Among these movements, private school vouchers are becoming prevalent in urban education systems with the ability for families to have the opportunity to send their children to a private school of their choice. By 2017, 14 states were funding private school vouchers for at least some groups of students. The merits of voucher programs continue to be debated, with advocates citing the benefits of school options and competition for public schools and critics objecting to the diversion of public funds to private organizations, including religious schools. The debates indicate significant interest in understanding whether and how these programs are effective.

A challenge in estimating the causal relationship between school voucher and educational outcomes is the endogeneity of school selection, i.e., non-random assignment of schools. This makes it difficult to separate the school effect from unobserved student and family characteristics that might affect both school choice and outcomes. The best approach to solving this problem is to randomly assign students to the treatment group that receives the voucher or a control group that does not. Over the past two decades, a growing number of experimental and quasi-experimental studies have examined the effects of school vouchers on student achievement but have yet to find consistent evidence. Early experimental studies found some positive effects of school vouchers, such as the school voucher programs in Milwaukee (Greene, Peterson, & Du, 1999) and Charlotte, NC (Cowen, 2008). However, these studies experienced high program attrition rates and inconsistency in the results, posing potential threats to the validity of experiment. Moreover, program effects appear to vary across student subgroups and over time.

Building upon the existing literature, this panel will discuss the most recent findings of school voucher programs in Louisiana, Indiana, and DC, which found negative or neutral effects on student test scores. The papers will examine overall effects, as well as variations in effect by student and school demographic characteristics and level of baseline performance. The Louisiana and DC voucher studies applied an experimental design to estimate treatment effects and hence addressed the endogeneity concerns. The Indiana voucher study used a matching design to examine the heterogeneous impacts of the voucher program on student achievement over six years (2011-12 through 2016-17). These papers will shed new light on the effectiveness of school choice programs in the current education environment and provide suggestions for future research on the topic.

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