by Ullik Rouk

In Closing

Publicly funded voucher programs will continue to be proposed and debated. They may even be enacted in the next few years. At present, the body of research about the impact of publicly funded voucher programs on student achievement is too small to be conclusive. The research shows little statistically significant difference between students with vouchers and those without. In some studies, voucher students have shown improvement in reading and mathematics over time. Research suggests that factors other than whether the school is private or public have a greater impact on student performance. Some anecdotal research points to parental satisfaction with the vouchers.

Overall, voucher programs show their strengths in the positive attitudes that parents of voucher students report regarding school safety, climate, instructional quality, and school administration.

But voucher programs remain largely experimental. The experience of Pensacola suggests that the presence of a voucher program might motivate a local school district to implement reforms that lead to student success. Many more questions, however, need to be answered about the impact of vouchers on student achievement, eligibility and access, accountability, and finance.

There remain the far-reaching questions: What will be the impact of vouchers on all students and all schools? How will that impact affect our society?

On both sides of the voucher debate, people agree that no single reform is a panacea. And it takes a while for an intervention to show widespread positive results. At this time, given a relatively short time frame and small numbers, voucher programs show limited impacts. But if the voucher experiment continues to be evaluated, the research base will grow. As it does, education decision makers’ will deepen their understanding so they ask not, "Do vouchers work?" but rather, "Under what conditions do students learn best?"

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Published in Insights on Educational Policy, Practice, and Research Number 12, September 2000, Vouchers: Yea or Nay