Facts About Vouchers

Resources and Accountability Can Improve Public Schools, Not Vouchers

  • Greene also never considered whether the very fact that schools were rated ‘F’—the so-called ‘Scarlet Letter effect’—regardless of the possibility of vouchers, stimulated the observed performance improvements. An Economic Policy Institute (EPI) report by Stanford researcher Martin Carnoy did examine this question empirically, testing Greene’s “voucher theory” against a “scarlet letter theory.”50 Like Florida, Texas and North Carolina have accountability systems that draw public attention to school failure (Florida had a similar system prior to the introduction of vouchers in 1999). Carnoy and colleagues compared the post-voucher test score gains in Florida against test score gains in these three non-voucher contexts:
  • Specifically, EPI utilized the fact that Florida’s FCAT had been the basis of rating schools even before vouchers were added in 1999. They compared gains in Florida in 1997-98 —before vouchers were introduced—by students in schools given a “critically low” rating in 1996 (comparable to the ‘F’ rating of the current system) with Greene’s data on the gains made by students in ‘F’-rated schools 1999-00 (post-voucher). They found that improvements in math scores were larger in 1997-98 when there was no “voucher threat,” while gains in reading and writing were larger after vouchers. They concluded that vouchers do not “have a significant positive impact on public school performance.”51
  • Comparing Texas and Florida, the EPI study found overall test score gains (not just for failing schools) to be similar. However, for the failing schools, gains in Texas were as large or larger than the gains calculated by Greene for Florida’s schools, “casting doubt on Greene’s claim that a voucher threat was the impetus for such growth in Florida”.52 Indeed, Greene’s own research in Texas points to an alternative explanation for Florida’s rising test scores: accountability, testing, and increased resources can promote school improvement, independent of vouchers. Greene himself, in an earlier article, found that the state’s Texas Assessment of Academic Skills (TAAS)—the set of tests that is the centerpiece of the Texas state accountability system—was critical to what he has called the “Texas school miracle” (the significant gains in some Texas achievement results during the 1990s).53
  • In North Carolina, the EPI study found that the low-performing schools had larger test score gains than higher-rated categories of schools, as in Florida—again, with no threat of vouchers. The authors, therefore, find that Greene “inappropriately attributed the differential gains to the voucher program rather than to the other effects of being labeled a failing school, such as shame, increased scrutiny, and possibly additional resources,”54 and that “the results that Jay Greene found for Florida probably have little or nothing to do with vouchers.”55
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