Tuesday, August 18, 2009

New Report Casts Doubt on Efficacy of School Vouchers

A report released today from Bruce Baker at the Great Lakes Center, “Private Schooling in the U.S.: Expenditures, Supply, and Policy Implications,” questions the viability of using vouchers to augment school choice. The report is based on a review of financial and enrollment information contained in IRS tax returns combined with data from the National Center for Education Statistics.

Baker concludes that private school spending varies enormously and the differences are explained by religious affiliation. Christian schools spend the least, but also have the lowest student test scores, often no better than public schools. Hebrew day schools and other independent day schools spend much more – often twice as much as traditional public schools – and also boast much higher student achievement.

Arguably, then, implementing a voucher system in poor sections of New Jersey, as both Christie and Daggett have suggested, would render the better private schools out of reach for poor families unless the private schools were willing to subsidize large portions of tuition. On the other hand, it’s hard to imagine that a kid would be better off at Camden High School than at Camden Catholic High School. The parents of kids who attend private schools through the D.C. voucher program might have some thoughts to share with Dr. Baker.

1 comment:

Bruce said...

A few clarifications to the post above. Unfortunately, there were no sources of outcome data or prior studies for the high end affiliations of private schools - only for the lower end and middle. But, I did include analyses of teacher characteristics, finding much stronger academic backgrounds of teachers in private independent schools than in public or other private schools (consistent with previous findings, but occurs for many reasons).

Second, NJ is among those states where the margin of difference in per pupil spending between poorer urban public districts and high end private schools is actually smaller than elsewhere in the country because NJ spends more on its poor urban schools than elsewhere, and surprisingly, NJ independent schools seem to spend marginally less per child than independent schools in other states in the northeast. That said, there still is not sufficient supply to solve the larger public policy problems.