"Parental Rights"

What Does the Research Reveal About the Educational Impact of the Cleveland Voucher Program

A multi-year, state-sponsored evaluation of the Cleveland program is being conducted by an Indiana University team led by Kim Metcalf. The first three reports examined the experience of voucher students and a comparison group over a two-year period, beginning with third grade.44 Recently, on September 4, 2001, a new report was issued which covers the first and second grade experiences of voucher and public school students in Cleveland. Overall, despite voucher proponents’ claims, the available studies fail to demonstrate a significant educational advantage for students who receive vouchers.

To date, the clearest, most unequivocal finding from the state-sanctioned evaluations of the voucher program is that students who used vouchers to attend new private schools—those established specifically to serve voucher students—scored significantly lower on academic tests in all subjects than their peers in both public schools and the more established private schools.45 In 1999, it was found that students using vouchers to attend older, established private schools performed on par with those attending public schools. On a subject-by-subject basis, these voucher students out-gained public school students only in science. Overall test scores and the other four subject scores revealed no significant differences between voucher students in established private schools and public school students.46

Responding to Metcalf’s first-year report, Paul Peterson and his research team claimed that findings from the 1997 evaluation of new private schools (HOPE Academy voucher schools) showed significant academic gains.47 Peterson was hired to evaluate these schools by their founder, David Brennan, a prominent voucher advocate.48 Peterson criticized the Indiana University study primarily for failing to include HOPE Academy test scores and for using second grade test scores taken prior to entry in voucher schools as a basis for comparison with third grade voucher scores.49

Metcalf responded with a strong article entitled "Advocacy in the Guise of Science." In it, he wrote that the Peterson researchers "are strong supporters of vouchers and have done much to promote the implementation of voucher programs throughout the country. So it is possible that they are engaged in a deliberate effort to misrepresent the Cleveland data in order to influence educational policy."50 Specifically, Metcalf responded that he did include the HOPE scores but put them into a different section because HOPE students took a different test. Concerning the second-grade tests, Metcalf pointed out that assessing first-year results of an experiment without a baseline is "a little like trying to determine who won a basketball game by looking only at the points scored in the second half of the game."51

The Ohio Legislative Committee on Education Oversight (LCEO), responsible for monitoring Cleveland’s voucher program, further discredited Peterson’s criticisms. The LCEO found that Peterson’s criticisms of the Metcalf study were "unfounded" and charged that he had released his critique to the Wall Street Journal, the Washington Post and the World Wide Web because he didn’t like the results, even though the study’s methods "are viewed as appropriate and credible by disinterested scholars."52

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