Kids Using Vouchers to Switch from Public to Private School Score Worse on Tests

Remember how our Legislature passed stealth vouchers to give their insurance company pals tax breaks for laundering public money into private-school scholarships? Even if we set aside concerns that Senate Bill 159 is just an ALEC-stroking privatization ploy, even if we let slide concerns that funding private schools violates the Legislature’s singular duty to support public schools, we can still advocate for the repeal of the stealth vouchers for one simple reason: they don’t work.

So says social science:

Recent research on statewide voucher programs in Louisiana and Indiana has found that public school students that received vouchers to attend private schools scored lower compared to similar students who did not attend private schools. This is the kind of research finding that generates a reaction of ‘wait, what?’ Negative effects are rare in education research.

The magnitudes of the negative impacts were large, too. In Louisiana, a public school student who was average in math (at the 50th percentile) and began attending a private school using a voucher declined to the 34th percentile after one year. If that student was in third, fourth, or fifth grade, the decline was steeper, to the 26th percentile. Reading declined, too: a student at the 50th percentile in reading declined to about the 46th percentile. In Indiana, a student who had entered a private school with a math score at the 50th percentile declined to the 44th percentile after one year [Mark Dynarski, “On Negative Effects of Vouchers,” Brookings Institution, 2016.05.26].

Black Hills education expert Carol Hayse mentioned the bad results in Louisiana earlier this spring. Advocates of SB 159 said they want to help kids, but the examples of Louisiana and Indiana the Legislature and the Governor put their ideological fantasies above evidence-based policymaking.


19 Responses to Kids Using Vouchers to Switch from Public to Private School Score Worse on Tests

  1. Roger Elgersma

    maybe the public school is much better at teaching to the test.

  2. mike from iowa

    You libs want private school students to fail. It is your fault. Prolly sitting around laughing about it right now, you godless commies.

  3. Charlene Lund

    I thought SB 159 was going to be referred to a vote? This is unfortunate that it has been allowed to move forward.

  4. It is worth saying – correlation does not equal causation. There could be many reasons why test scores are worse with transfer kids, but we shouldn’t base any argument (pro or con) on the data until the root cause is understood.

  5. owen reitzel

    “You libs want private school students to fail. It is your fault. Prolly sitting around laughing about it right now, you godless commies.”

    lol. love it mfi, love it.

  6. Jake Cummings

    Roger, the report Cory linked to mentions that private schools traditionally have not been subject to the same accountability metrics as public schools and does admit that Campbell’s law may exert some influence (without explicitly naming Campbell’s law); however, it later notes “private school voucher students did worse than public school counterparts regardless of the degree of alignment of the tests with the state standards guiding instruction in public schools.”

    Craig, Dynarski indicates that the Louisiana study utilized a randomly-assigned experimental model, which theoretically allows more robust causal analyses. Still, I think your correlation-causation concerns are germane. Regardless, reports like this may be most useful in informing objective examination of the justification proponents of initiatives like vouchers offer.

  7. mike from iowa

    Regardless, reports like this may be most useful in informing objective examination of the justification proponents of initiatives like vouchers offer.

    Do you honestly believe voucher champions in South Dakota, or the rest of America for that matter, would pay the slightest attention to any suggestion vouchers aren’t the answer?

  8. Jake Cummings

    mfi, I agree that attempting to convince entrenched voucher proponents is likely futile, but I think sustainable coalitions can be mobilized using data like this. However, as I have admitted before, I have mixed feelings regarding topics like vouchers because I believe maximizing educational opportunity should be our overarching goal.

    Dynarski’s report asked an interesting question that has yet to be discussed — would a parent choose to enroll his/her child in a private school that exhibited improved graduation rates despite the lower math and reading achievement mentioned earlier? I find this interesting because of the possible unintended consequences. For example, let’s say the parent does enroll the child in a private school; the child does, unfortunately, perform more poorly in math and reading than public school peers, yet the child does graduate and attend college but must enroll in remedial classes due to the aforementioned math and reading deficiencies. I would say such a case would be an example of mistaken “maximized opportunity” (voucher proponents would likely be more apt to underscore the increased graduation rates and downplay the math/reading achievement data) in that graduation from the elementary/secondary institution left the child poorly prepared for postsecondary education. More importantly, it is a disservice to the child.

  9. Jake, good response to Roger’s question about teaching to the test! Thanks for your close reading of that article!

    I am intrigued by Dynarski’s question. I can see a parent saying, “Test scores aren’t everything.” I can imagine prioritizing other opportunities: extracurriculars, arts, religious instruction, social environment…. Sometimes switching schools isn’t based on a rigorous examination of averages and standard deviations of student test scores and graduation rates; it’s a matter of survival, of getting a child away from bullies or staff with some personal issues.

    In general, I’d agree with Jake’s response to Dynarski’s question: it’s a disservice to the child to enroll the child in a more poorly performing school. But in specific situations, even if we can identify a difference in overall performance, we’d still need to assess just how big the performance gap is. Would that gap be enough to doom graduates to remedial classes at college?

    At the same time, I should be careful about making too many exceptions. If the data say kids who switch from public to private schools on vouchers perform worse on tests, parents should not Lake Woebegon themselves into thinking their unique children can beat the averages.

  10. Charlene, on referral, in early April, the School Administrators of South Dakota mentioned that they were considering referral of SB 159; it appears they decided a referral wasn’t worth the effort.

    Oh well. That just means we have to concentrate on electing legislators who will repeal SB 159 next year. I’m game—who’s with me?

  11. The failings of private schools are well documented and I look forward to working on reversing SB 159.

  12. Steve Sibson

    Hold on one minute. Could this study be flawed? From Cory’s link:

    “None of these earlier studies reported significant negative effects on test scores, which adds to interest in what might be happening in Louisiana and Indiana that could explain negative effects. Is it something about how the research studies were designed, how the programs were structured, the quality of the public schools against which private schools were being compared?”

    It is way too early to jump to the conclusions that this thread has reached. Could this be another example of how propagandists can use deception to mislead the masses in order to win a political point?

  13. Just reading this story demonstrates that reporting isn’t what it used to be.

    “In Louisiana, a public school student who was average in math (at the 50th percentile) and began attending a private school using a voucher declined to the 34th percentile after one year.”

    Wait, there is even more resounding evidence: “In Indiana, a student who had entered a private school with a math score at the 50th percentile declined to the 44th percentile after one year.”

    So we have two kids that scored worse out of how many? I don’t know – I couldn’t find it in this piece, and I did drill down into the numerous links provided that are used to support the headline of this “story.”

    I drilled into the link “So Says Social Science” and come upon this sentence: “To address this hypothesis, the Mills and Wolf study exploited the fact that some LEAP tests had more content related to Louisiana state standards, and those tests might favor public school students.” Ok, who is/are Mills and Wolf? Have to do some more drilling to find out who they are.

    Click on one of the links and the lead line is: “Recent research on statewide voucher programs in Louisiana and Indiana has found that public school students that received vouchers to attend private schools subsequently scored lower on reading and math tests compared to similar students that remained in public schools. The magnitudes of the negative impacts were large.”

    It would be nice to know a bit more about the sources without having to go down into multiple levels to realize that two kids from two different states didn’t do well when going from public to private.

  14. Jake Cummings

    Steve, what seems to be missing from the debate is an objective discussion. If voucher and/or scholarship tax credit (STC) proponents argue that private schools exhibit better outcomes, including reading and math achievement, they should provide valid supportive evidence. This Brookings Institution’s report was offered because it calls such assertions into question. That is not to say it calls all such assertions into question; rather, it should merely give us all pause when considering such initiatives. Conversely, liberals (including myself) should be willing to consider that perhaps SD’s private schools do (or will) exhibit improved performance and seek common ground to maximize students’ opportunity. However, we should not just take individuals’, particularly biased stakeholders, words at face value.

    Paul, there are more than two students subject to the research findings, as demonstrated by the Mills and Wolf research available here: http://media.nola.com/education_impact/other/Report%201%20-%20LSP%20Y2%20Achievement%20-%20Embargo.pdf. Page 17 of their report specifies two-stage least squares models (and the variables included) utilized in their research. I believe Dynarski’s possibly confusing verbiage is rooted in an application of those two-staged least squares models to prospective students. You can find similar language used when researchers employ statistical analyses such as regression for predictive analytics.

  15. “An example of how propagandists can use deception to mislead the masses in order to win a political point?”

    Steve, if you discredit statistics, then you are the “propagandist” using deception to mislead the masses in order to win a political point.

    LOL

  16. As of 2015 the Brookings Institution had assets of $482 million.[76] Its largest contributors include the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, the Hutchins Family Foundation, JPMorgan Chase, the LEGO Foundation, David Rubenstein, State of Qatar, and John L. Thornton.

    In the University of Pennsylvania’s 2015 Report, Brookings was named “Think Tank of the Year,” “Best Think Tank in the World,” and “Best Think Tank in the U.S.A.” for the ninth consecutive year…and was also named best think tank for “Domestic Economic Policy” and “International Development,” in addition to being “Best Managed,” having “Best Quality Assurance and Integrity Policies,” and having the “Most Significant Impact on Public Policy.”[12]

    Brookings states that its staff “represent diverse points of view” and describes itself as non-partisan,[1][13] while the media sometimes describes Brookings as “liberal”.[14]

    An academic analysis of Congressional records from 1993 to 2002 found that Brookings was referenced by conservative politicians almost as frequently as liberal politicians, earning a score of 53 on a 1–100 scale with 100 representing the most liberal score.[15] The same study found Brookings to be the most frequently cited think tank by the U.S. media and politicians.[15]

  17. wiki,above.

    Brookings senior fellow, Robert Litan, presented a study to Congress in July 2015 that contained a cost/benefit analysis regarding a new agency rule. He resigned that position as a result of a firestorm, months later in September 2015, kicked up by Senator Elizabeth Warren charging Litan—who had testified against a fiduciary obligation rule.

    wiki, cont., but w/o direct citations, for the peeps here who dislike wiki’s “instant info access”

  18. Paul, as Jake points out, the reporting appears to be fine, but you could improve your reading comprehension.