Two Roads to Reform: Comparing the Research on Vouchers And Class-Size Reduction

The Voucher 'Competition' Myth

Voucher supporters such as researcher Jay Greene claim that vouchers have a positive impact on public school students because the threat they pose leads public schools to improve. In a February 2001 report, Greene asserted that the "Florida A+" voucher program led to public school gains. But researchers at Rutgers University and the University of Colorado at Boulder identified serious flaws in Greene's analysis. Stanford University professor Martin Carnoy found that under the accountability system that Florida created before vouchers existed, student improvement was greater than after the so-called 'voucher threat' was introduced.26

Greene also neglected to consider the significant impact of extra resources, both state and local, which were directed towards Florida's 'F'-rated public schools. These resources enabled the schools to extend the school day, week, and year, as well as strengthen professional development for teachers. These elements-combined with accountability measures-may well have been the real cause of improvements in these Florida public schools.27

While pro-voucher forces claim that public schools won't improve without "competition" from voucher programs, the evidence dispels this myth. In fact, public school districts in Los Angeles, Baltimore, Dallas, Portland, Minneapolis, San Diego, Birmingham and Seattle raised both their reading and math scores last year in every grade tested-and each of these urban districts did so without the presence of a publicly funded voucher program.28 Indeed, Greene's own research leads to the conclusion that accountability, testing, and increased resources led to public school improvement in Texas, a state which has no publicly funded voucher program.29

Voucher supporters also cite Harvard University researcher Caroline Hoxby's finding that competition from private schools spurs improvements in public schools. But Duke University professor Helen Ladd and other analysts have questioned Hoxby's conclusions. In a study published earlier this year, Ladd observed that other researchers "have used better data and alternative methods and have found no positive effects on public school achievement from competition from private schools."30

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