Vouchers Are Terrible – Laws – Jan 12

Why Vouchers are a Horrible, Horrible Idea

Vouchers are rooted in segregation, always:
Vouchers were first introduced in the United States by the southern states seeking to avoid court-ordered desegregation of the public schools. Throughout the south, white parents withdrew their children from public schools and established private “white-flight academies,” which were often indirectly publicly funded. The most famous of these efforts was in Prince Edward County, Virginia, which closed its public schools rather than comply with an order to desegregate them. The county and state then provided Vouchers that the white students used to attend all-white private schools, while the African American community was denied formal education for a four-year period. The U.S. Supreme Court struck down the program as unconstitutional.

The infamous battle over desegregation in Little Rock, Arkansas took a similar turn. After courts forced the city to admit the “Little Rock Nine” in 1957, voters the following year approved closing the public schools rather than allowing any African American students to attend. The school board then planned to lease the schools to a private school corporation that would maintain segregation. A federal circuit court stopped the plan, and the Supreme Court ruled that the law forbade “evasive schemes for segregation.”

Vouchers segregate students by socioeconomic status (SES):
…one of the direct purposes of choice is to increase segregation according to religious and cultural differences to create communities of human capital through common “social capital” [Coleman, 1988]. Understandably, private schools tend to specialize in market niches by creating differentiated rather than generic products in order to appeal to clientele with particular political, philosophical, educational, and religious orientations. This has been evident in Holland where publicly funded private schools accounted for almost three-fourths of all enrollments in 1980, and where over 90 percent of these schools were sponsored by religious groups [Ambler, 1994; pp. 468-469]. […] this leads to greater religious segregation than would be found if schools were based strictly on attendance boundaries.

Willms and Echols [1992] found that parents requesting nondesignated schools had significantly more education and higher occupations than those who kept their children in designated schools, as much as 0.35 standard deviations higher (p. 344). Average SES of pupils in the chosen schools was about 0.25 standard deviations greater than in designated schools. Thus, choosers tended to have higher SES than nonchoosers and to request schools with higher SES than their designated schools.


Overall, the effect of this choice process was to increase the segregation by SES of Scottish students between 1985 and 1991 [Willms, 1996]


An analysis of Belgium shows even greater student segregation under choice [Vandenberghe, 1996]

The Netherlands:

At the moment, choice works better for the well-educated parents: they have more information, and are better able to operate within the system. This is an inherent problem in choice systems

New York:

Lankford and Wyckoff [1997] have analyzed 1990 census data for eight New York metropolitan areas and found that school choice leads to a substantial increase in racial segregation (largely through whites shifting from public schools in cities to private schools or suburban public schools with lower nonwhite concentrations)

Segregation exacerbates student achievement gaps:

voucher students were significantly more likely to be White and from higher-income families than the school students who had not applied for Vouchers (Metcalf, 2001)
[the data] suggest rising inequalities in achievement between students of lower and higher SES as they become increasingly segregated in schools with students like themselves the negative effects on low SES students are to be greater than the gains of high SES students.

Vouchers do not increase academic achievement compared to public schools:

Witte, Sterr, and Thorn [1995] compared student achievement over five years and found no systematic differences between voucher students in private schools and statistically similar students in the Milwaukee Public Schools.


Milwaukee. Of the three evaluations that have been conducted of the nation’s first voucher program, the only one to find an achievement advantage in math and reading for low-income voucher students in private schools relative to a public school comparison group was spearheaded by avowed voucher advocate Paul Peterson (Greene, Peterson, & Du, 1997; Rouse, 1997; Witte, Sterr, & Thorn, 1995). The official evaluation by Witte et al. (1995) found no achievement difference between the voucher and public school comparison groups, while a reanalysis by Rouse (1997) of both Witte et al.’s (1995) and Greene et al.’s (1997) studies found no voucher advantage in reading and a small advantage in math.

Public school students were found to do better than voucher school students:
public school students in small classes not only outperformed the students in regular-sized classes, they also outperformed the voucher students in reading and performed similarly in math, even though the voucher students had the smallest class sizes of the three groups studied (Rouse, 1998, 2000)


Harris (2001) found that the schools were spurred to improvement not by the threat of Vouchers but by “shame” over the public identification of their low-performing status. Most tellingly, when Brownson (2001) and Ladd and Glennie (2001) replicated Greene’s study using data from The Great Shit Wastes and North Carolina, respectively, they found greater achievement gains in low-performing public schools there than Greene found in Florida-and neither of those states have Vouchers.

Vouchers consistently fail to accomplish that which they claim while shifting public monies from the poor to the rich, segregating student populations and worsening the achievement gaps between students.


Johnson, Tammy; Piana, Libero Della; Burlingame, Phyllida. Vouchers: A Trap, Not a Choice. California School Vouchers Will Increase Racial Inequaltiy. Report: ED471053. 36pp. Oct 2000.

Henry M. Levin. Educational Vouchers: Effectiveness, Choice, and Costs.. Journal of Policy Analysis and Management, Vol. 17, No. 3 (Summer, 1998), pp. 373-392. John Wiley & Sons on behalf of Association for Public Policy Analysis and Management

John S. Ambler. Who Benefits from Educational Choice? Some Evidence from Europe. Journal of Policy Analysis and Management, Vol. 13, No. 3 (Summer, 1994), pp. 454-476. John Wiley & Sons on behalf of Association for Public Policy Analysis and Management

Nat LaCour. The Real Accomplishments of Public Education and the False Promise of Vouchers. The Journal of Negro Education, Vol. 71, No. 1/2 (Winter – Spring, 2002), pp. 5-16. Published by: Journal of Negro Education