Like many other parents, Governor Mitt Romney would prefer to no longer consign children to a government school based on their zip code. This has rankled the New York Times, prompting the paper to dedicate prime real estate yesterday (following a 10-page screed earlier this month) to demonize school choice once again.
It’s amazing that providing children a lifeline to escape an underperforming or dangerous school should stir such angst on the part of the Times. But yesterday’s attack referred to the word “voucher” as a “fighting word in education.”
The thought of vouchers bothers the Times so much that they obscure the facts about the powerful impact of school choice: “[T]here is limited evidence in the real world of schools improving much as they compete for students, according to education experts.”
In fact, there is a growing body of evidence that school choice improves educational outcomes, all derived from “the real world.”
Northwestern University’s David Figlio found that the competitive pressure placed on public schools as a result of the Florida Tax Credit Scholarship Program (which provides vouchers to low-income children and a tax credit to contributing corporations) was “associated with greater improvements in students’ test scores following the introduction of the program.”
Then there’s Florida’s McKay program, which provides vouchers to special-needs children to attend a private school of choice. Marcus Winters and Jay Greene found that the competitive pressure resulting from McKay led the children with disabilities who remained in public schools to perform better academically. “Contrary to the hypothesis that school choice harms students who remain in public schools,” the researchers conclude, “this study finds that students eligible for vouchers who remained in the public schools made greater academic improvements as their school choices increased.”
A congressionally mandated evaluation of the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program by Patrick Wolf, which provides vouchers to low-income children in the nation’s capital, produced graduation rates 21 percentage points higher for enrolled students. Students who used a voucher to attend a private school in D.C. had a 91 percent graduation rate; graduation rates in D.C. public schools hover around 55 percent. Nothing is different about these children. It was simply school choice that improved their educational opportunity and attainment.
In fact, the empirical evidence in support of school choice has become so robust that researcher Greg Forster conducted a meta-analysis of the findings. Nine of the ten gold-standard random-sampling studies that have been conducted to determine how vouchers affect participating students found that student outcomes are improved as a result of voucher use. Eighteen out of nineteen empirical studies conducted on the impact of vouchers on public schools found that vouchers improved public schools.
There is far more evidence in support of school choice than there is evidence in support of a further centralized education agenda, such as we’ve seen in recent years.
Children can’t wait around in a failing public school for years while policymakers attempt a turn-around or other solutions. School choice empowers students to define their own destiny by choosing an educational option that meets their unique needs, immediately.
The Times might not like to admit it, but the argument that school choice is a rising tide that lifts all boats is, empirically speaking, absolutely correct. Romney’s statement that “a choice for every parent means a chance for every child,” is supported by the evidence.
— Lindsey Burke is the Will Skillman Fellow in Education at the Heritage Foundation.