New Research: Louisiana Voucher Results Swing Upward
The education landscape has been captivated by the topic of private school choice, with the release of an academic paper causing a stir. Supporters and opponents of vouchers eagerly anticipate and engage in passionate debates about the latest findings, as choice has become the most politically charged issue in education.
The recent research study conducted by Jonathan N. Mills and Patrick Wolf from the University of Arkansas focuses on the Louisiana Scholarship Program, which awards vouchers to students. The study reveals that students in the program initially fell behind their peers in public schools but eventually caught up after three years, leveling the playing field.
While the authors do not claim conclusive evidence, they suggest that the initial negative impact of the program may diminish over time, particularly in math.
Mills and Wolf made waves in 2016 when they uncovered significant negative effects on student performance in English language arts (ELA) and math during the first year of the LSP program.
Although the new study is relatively small, comparing 514 students who won voucher lotteries with those who did not, it offers some vindication for voucher proponents. These proponents have argued that the program should not be judged solely on its initial effects.
During an Urban Institute forum on vouchers, John White, Louisiana’s state superintendent of education, asserted that he was not an advocate for private school choice alone. However, he maintained that it could potentially be a means of providing low-income youth with access to every high-quality school possible.
There is also some positive news from Indiana. A study by R. Joseph Waddington from the University of Kentucky and Mark Berends from the University of Notre Dame found that students enrolled in the Indiana Choice Scholarship Program, the largest voucher initiative in the nation, initially fell behind in math during the first two years but caught up in years three and four if they remained in the program. Their enrollment in the program did not affect their ELA achievement.
Waddington and Berends acknowledge that their findings have limitations due to the small number of students they were able to track for three or four years, as many students leave the program. However, their study is the first to examine the entire state’s data.
Additional key findings include:
– Students who entered the Louisiana program with lower ELA scores experienced significant gains, while those who started in the early elementary grades faced significant losses in math.
– Students who switched from private schools in the Indiana program and returned to public schools experienced the greatest declines in ELA and math performance.
– Students in Catholic schools within the Indiana program showed improvements in ELA.
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