Cory Turner and Anya Kamenetz of NPR look at two new voucher studies: one from Indiana, the other from Louisiana. The common thread is that voucher students lose ground academically in the first couple of years. Then, in the third or fourth year, they make up their losses and catch up with their public school peers.
The Indiana study, not yet peer-reviewed, found:
“The researchers studied student data for the program’s first four years and noticed an interesting pattern. If students stayed in their voucher schools long enough, the backslide stopped and their performance began to improve.
“The longer that a student is enrolled in a private school receiving a voucher, their achievement begins to turn positive in magnitude — to the degree that they’re making up ground that they initially lost in their first couple of years in private school,” Waddington tells NPR. “It’s like they’re getting back to where they started” before they enrolled in a private school.
“New voucher students fell statistically significantly behind their public school peers in math after switching. On average, those losses continued for two years in private school before students began making up ground. In the fourth year, those who were still enrolled in a voucher school appeared to catch up.
“In ELA, voucher students also lost ground but, ultimately, surpassed their public school peers by the fourth year.
“This pattern may give new hope to voucher supporters, but it comes with an important caveat: Many students did not stay in the system long enough to see this improvement, instead bouncing back to public schools, especially the lowest-achieving voucher students.”
So the lowest-achieving students returned to public schools, and the better-performing students showed gains. Hmm. No miracles there.
The study also found that vouchers are used by 3% of Indiana students. Half of them had never attended a public school. In other words, the voucher was used to pay tuition for students already attending a nonpublic school.
The other study, reported here yesterday, found a similar pattern of losses followed by a recovery.
Remember we were told for years that vouchers would “save poor kids from failing public schools”? It turns out that this was speculation. It hasn’t happened. The students in voucher schools are not posting amazing gains. It takes four years in a voucher school to catch up to their public school classmates, and modest gains are registered by those who survive.
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