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ERIC Number: ED498832
Record Type: Non-Journal
Publication Date: 2003
Pages: 4
Abstractor: ERIC
School Vouchers and Student Achievement: What We Know So Far. Policy Briefs: Education Reform. Volume 3, Number 1
Ladd, Helen F.
Center for Child and Family Policy, Duke University (NJ1)
Although small, carefully managed voucher programs might provide a helpful safety valve for some disadvantaged children, policy makers should be under no illusion that such programs will address the fundamental challenge of providing an adequate education to the large numbers of such students in many urban centers. Contrary to the claims of many voucher advocates, widespread use of school vouchers is not likely to generate substantial gains in student achievement or in the productivity of the U.S. K-12 education system. Any gains in overall student achievement due to vouchers are likely to be small at best. Moreover, given the tendency of parents to judge schools in part by the characteristics of the students in them, a universal voucher system would harm large numbers of disadvantaged students, who would wind up grouped together in schools that more motivated and/or talented students had left. Claims that performance at these schools would eventually rise because of competition within a voucher system, or that these schools would be replaced by better ones, is not borne out by research. At the same time, there are sound arguments for giving families more power to choose the schools their children attend. The challenge for policy makers is to find ways to expand parental choices without excessively privileging the interests of individual families over the social interests that justify the public funding of K-12 education. A large-scale voucher program could potentially affect student achievement through three interrelated mechanisms: (1) Shifting students from the public sector to the private sector: (2) Generation of socioeconomic and racial polarization of students among schools as some students and families seek to improve the quality of their peers; and (3) Increased competition among schools for students. Evidence for examining these mechanisms and the effects of vouchers is limited. Studies cited in this article do not provide compelling evidence to support the view that the private sector generates higher achievement than the public sector. Nor is there clear evidence that peer effects could affect overall productivity. Although proponents argue that competition would increase achievement by forcing the public schools to become more effective, the writer notes that if low-performing students left the public schools via vouchers, average achievement scores at those schools would naturally rise. These conclusions do not rule out other types of benefits, such as those that would accrue to families who used school vouchers to achieve a better match between their values, including their religious values, and the values of the schools their children attend. The results do imply, however, that the debate about voucher programs should revolve around the desirability of benefits of that type rather than around their alleged contribution to student achievement. (Contains 11 endnotes.) [This brief was produced by the Center for Child and Family Policy, Duke University, Terry Sanford Institute of Public Policy.]
Center for Child and Family Policy, Duke University. 257 Sanford Institute of Public Policy, Box 90264, Durham, NC 27708-0264. Tel: 919-613-7319; Fax: 919-681-1533; e-mail:; Web site:
Publication Type: Opinion Papers
Education Level: Elementary Secondary Education
Audience: N/A
Language: English
Sponsor: N/A
Authoring Institution: Duke Univ., Durham, NC. Terry Sanford Inst. of Public Policy.