On school vouchers, the data isn't encouraging
ONCE again, Pennsylvania has a governor who promises to make education a central focus of his administration. Tom Corbett has pledged to move quickly on several initiatives that have the potential to dramatically change the landscape of education in our state. One such initiative - the creation of education vouchers - is emerging as one of the cornerstones of this administration's approach to reform.
ONCE again, Pennsylvania has a governor who promises to make education a central focus of his administration.
Tom Corbett has pledged to move quickly on several initiatives that have the potential to dramatically change the landscape of education in our state. One such initiative - the creation of education vouchers - is emerging as one of the cornerstones of this administration's approach to reform.
Senate Bill 1, a bipartisan-supported measure that would let students at low-performing schools take education dollars from their public-school districts and apply them to tuition at private and religiously affiliated schools, has quickly gained steam in Harrisburg and dominated the debate throughout Pennsylvania.
The sheer volume of the rhetoric about vouchers would lead many to believe that they are proven to be successful.
But is there any evidence that vouchers are an effective tool of education reform?
That's the question my organization, Research for Action, sought to answer.
For 20 years, we have conducted independent, reputable research that focuses on finding ways to improve education policy and practice. We looked at the track record of voucher programs that already exist in school districts and states throughout the country, making sure to examine only the most robust research from nonpartisan and reputable researchers.
What we found will come as an inconvenient truth to many: Vouchers produce few, if any, statistically significant effects on student achievement.
In other words, there is very little evidence that vouchers increase achievement for students who use vouchers. Furthermore, there has been no research conducted on the impact of graduation rates, college enrollment and post-school success of students enrolled in voucher programs. (For more information, see Educational Vouchers: Facts, Figures and a Summary of the Research, available at www.researchforaction.org.)
Despite this resounding lack of evidence, Pennsylvanians and their elected officials have already begun a fiery debate about the pros and cons of voucher programs and other proposed changes to the education code. Our research on education at the local, state and national level tell us that there are no silver bullets.
Education fads come and go, and most have little impact. Effective, sustainable reform requires a long-term commitment to proven practices, and deep buy-in from parents to teachers to policymakers.
As we debate the future of our schools, it's important to remember that determining how to achieve our shared goal of ensuring a high-quality education for every child in Pennsylvania is too important to be guided by emotion and partisan stances.
Research for Action is calling upon our lawmakers to remember that reputable research and proven practices - not politics and personal agendas - are the tools that should guide decision-making. The stakes are too high to do anything less.
Kate Shaw is executive director of Research for Action, a Philadelphia-based nonprofit working in educational research and reform.