Ohio’s EdChoice Scholarhip Program has provided vouchers to nearly 20,000 students in Ohio who would otherwise attend low-performing schools. A new study by the Thomas B. Fordham Institute examined the program to determine how it is working by analyzing data from the 2003-2004 through 2012-13 school years. The study looked to answer the questions “Which children are using EdChoice when given the opportunity? Is the initiative faithfully working as its founders intended? Are participating students blossoming academically in their private schools of choice? Does the increased competition associated with EdChoice lead to improvements in the public schools that these kids left?”
“Taken together, the results of this report present a mixed bag of findings regarding the EdChoice voucher program,” the report reads, saying that there are still variables which require further study.
The study had three key findings, the first of which had to do with student selection. The students benefiting from EdChoice are mostly low-income or minority children but, the study says, “relative to pupils who are eligible for vouchers but choose not to use them, the participants in EdChoice are somewhat higher-achieving and less economically disadvantaged.”
The study’s authors believe that the competition vouchers provide helped improved all schools.
However, the last key finding was that voucher students saw lower results on state exams compared to public school peers. “Only voucher students assigned to relatively high-performing EdChoice eligible public schools could be credibly studied,” the report concluded, because that was the best apples-to-apples comparison available. Private schools that barely met the criteria for vouchers, for example, were not included in the research. However, the report cautions, while this selection is “not without its problems,” it was determined to be the best data to use.
“Though EdChoice eligibility apparently improves student test scores in general,” the study concludes, “this is not the case for those who actually use their vouchers to attend private schools, having previously attended relatively high-performing public schools among the EdChoice eligible schools. Those eligible students (coming from these relatively high-performing public schools) who attend private schools appear to fare considerably worse than we predict that they would have performed had they remained in the public schools.”
The authors recommend more research into school quality, test-curriculum alignment, and other factors that could affect performance data.