FACT: More than a decade after the first publicly funded voucher program began, there's no good evidence that vouchers do a better job of educating children than public schools.
Last fall, the U.S. General Accounting Office reported that state evaluations found little or no difference between the academic achievement of voucher students and public school students in Cleveland and Milwaukee-the two urban school systems with publicly funded voucher programs.4
Indiana University researcher Kim Metcalf, who has spent several years studying the Cleveland program, released a report last year comparing groups of voucher students and public school students from the time they entered first grade through the end of second grade. Over this two-year period, the report found that the public school students demonstrated average learning gains that were greater in language, reading and math than the voucher students.5
Some voucher supporters have cited data collected by Princeton University researcher Cecilia Rouse to try to advance their case. But these voucher advocates neglect to mention Rouse's 1998 research comparing Milwaukee's voucher schools with the city's P-5 schools-public schools with small class sizes and additional targeted funding. "The results suggest," Rouse wrote, "that students in P-5 schools have math test score gains similar to those in the [voucher] schools, and that students in the P-5 schools outperform students in the [voucher] schools in reading." Rouse went on to explain: "Given that the pupil-teacher ratios in the P-5 and choice schools are significantly smaller than those in the other public schools, one potential explanation for these results is that students perform well in schools with smaller class sizes [emphasis in original]."6 In other words, improved test scores for these voucher students may have been the result of smaller classes, not attending private schools.