Achievement Impact of Private School Vouchers

Indiana Vouchers – Substantial, Enduring Achievement Losses
  • An August 2018 report1, based on six years of longitudinal data from the nation’s largest voucher program, found that voucher students had “substantial average achievement loss” in math and no significant difference in English language arts compared to their public school peers. Public and private school students in Indiana take the same assessments, allowing “apples-to-apples comparisons of student achievement outcomes.”
  • Indiana voucher students’ achievement did not improve over time; math losses remained entrenched over successive years in private schools.
Alabama Vouchers – No Change in Achievement
  • A September 2018 evaluation2 of the Alabama voucher program revealed that the majority of voucher students experienced no gain or loss on standardized tests as compared to their public school peers.
  • The study found that additional years in private school did not yield improvement in achievement; 73% of the 1,991 voucher students evaluated were in their third and fourth years of attendance at private voucher schools.
D.C. Vouchers – No Impact on Achievement
  • Many years into a federally funded District of Columbia voucher experiment, a May 2019 report3 again found no improvement in student achievement.
  • Voucher users in their first two years in private schools scored significantly lower in math than their peers who remained in the D.C. public schools; in the third year, there were no statistically significant impacts on achievement in reading or math. The voucher program was renewed by Congress in 2017, despite clearly failing to meet its objectives by that point.
Ohio EdChoice Vouchers – Persistently Lower Achievement
  • According to a comprehensive evaluation4 of longitudinal data on Ohio’s EdChoice Scholarship (voucher) Program in 2016, private school voucher students “fared worse academically compared to their closely matched peers attending public schools.”
  • The study finds persistently lower achievement for voucher students relative to public school peers in both math and English language arts, with the greatest disparity in math (longitudinal data, 2003-2004 through 2012-2013).
Louisiana Vouchers – Significant Achievement Losses After Four Years
  • Research on the Louisiana Scholarship (voucher) program found “strong and consistent evidence” that voucher students performed significantly worse in math after their first two years in private voucher schools5. In the third year, math impacts ranged from significantly negative for students in early grades to statistically insignificant for other students as compared to peers in public schools.6 A 2019 comprehensive study showed that in the fourth year of the program, private school voucher students again declined in academic performance, experiencing “large negative effects” in math, English language arts, and science.7
  • Private school voucher students scored 27 points below their public school peers in math in the first year of the voucher program, and 16 points below in the second year. In reading, voucher students trailed their public school peers by 9 points in year 1 and 8 points in year 2. At the end of their third year in private voucher schools, students still had not recovered the learning losses incurred during the first and second years of the program. After four years, students using vouchers to attend private schools continued to perform noticeably worse on state assessments than their public school peers.
Wisconsin Vouchers – Dramatically Lower Achievement
  • Wisconsin introduced vouchers in 1990 and by 2023 provided them to 50,000 students annually across the state. Wisconsin requires its voucher students to take the same state tests used in public schools, allowing a direct comparison of the achievement of private school voucher students and public school students.
  • Performance results from the 2022-2023 school year showed dramatically lower proficiency rates for private school voucher students in both math and reading as compared to their public school peers. Public school students had proficiency rates of 38.9% in ELA and 37.4% in math, while the proficiency rates of private school voucher students was 22.1% in ELA and 17.9% in math.8
Prior studies revealed little to no academic advantage:
  • Long-term studies of voucher programs in Milwaukee9, the oldest school choice/voucher program in the U.S., Cleveland10, 11, and the District of Columbia12 found no advantage in academic achievement for students attending private schools with vouchers.
  • Annual studies of Florida’s tax credit (voucher) program showed negligible changes for private school voucher students. Of the 158 private voucher schools reporting more than 30 students, only 18 schools achieved statistically significant, though small, gains in reading and math from 2011 – 2014. Another 31 schools produced statistically significant losses over the three-year period. Most schools’ voucher students performed about the same as they had in previous years, neither gaining nor losing ground when compared to their peers nationally (Florida no longer reports comparative scores for in-state public school and voucher students).13

Impact of the Indiana Choice Scholarship Program: Achievement Effects for Students in Upper Elementary and Middle School, Journal of Policy Analysis and Management, August 2018  See report

2 Evaluation of the Alabama Accountability Act: Academic Achievement Test Outcomes of Scholarship Recipients 2016-2017, The Institute for Social Science Research, University of Alabama, September 2018  See report

3 Evaluation of the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program (reauthorized under SOAR Act of 2017): Impacts Three Years After Students Applied, National Center for Education Evaluation and Regional Assistance, U.S. Department of Education, May 2019  See report

4 Evaluation of Ohio’s EdChoice Scholarship Program, Thomas B. Fordham Institute, July 2016  See report

5 How Has the Louisiana Scholarship Program Affected Students? A Comprehensive Summary of Effects After Two Years, Education Research Alliance of New Orleans and School Choice Demonstration Project, University of Arkansas, February 2016  See report

6 The Effects of the Louisiana Scholarship Program on Student Achievement After Three Years, Education Research Alliance of New Orleans and School Choice Demonstration Project, University of Arkansas, July 2017  See report

7 The Effects of the Louisiana Scholarship Program on Student Achievement After Four Years, School Choice Demonstration Project, University of Arkansas, April 2019  See Report

8 Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction, 2023

9 Comprehensive Longitudinal Evaluation of the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program: Summary of Fourth Year Reports, 2011

10 Evaluation of the Cleveland Scholarship and Tutoring Program: Summary Report, Indiana University, 1998-2004, 2006

11  The Evidence on Education Vouchers: An Application to the Cleveland Scholarship and Tutoring Program, City University of New York, 2006, commissioned by the National Center for the Study of Privatization in Education

12 Evaluation of the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program: Final Report, University of Arkansas and Georgetown University, 2010, commissioned by the U.S. Department of Education

13 Evaluation of the Florida Tax Credit Program, Florida State University, 2015

1 thought on “Achievement Impact of Private School Vouchers”

  1. Pingback: A brief history of Wisconsin’s voucher school system: Less effective and more expensive than promised.

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