Thursday, January 7, 2016

School Vouchers and Student Achievement: some sobering news from Abdulkadiroglu, Pathak, and Walters

School Vouchers and Student Achievement: First-Year Evidence from the Louisiana Scholarship Program

Atila AbdulkadirogluParag A. PathakChristopher R. Walters

NBER Working Paper No. 21839
Issued in December 2015
NBER Program(s):   ED   LS   PE 
We evaluate the Louisiana Scholarship Program (LSP), a prominent school voucher plan. The LSP provides public funds for disadvantaged students at low-performing Louisiana public schools to attend private schools of their choice. LSP vouchers are allocated by random lottery at schools with more eligible applicants than available seats. We estimate causal effects of voucher receipt by comparing outcomes for lottery winners and losers in the first year after the program expanded statewide. This comparison reveals that LSP participation substantially reduces academic achievement. Attendance at an LSP-eligible private school lowers math scores by 0.4 standard deviations and increases the likelihood of a failing score by 50 percent. Voucher effects for reading, science and social studies are also negative and large. The negative impacts of vouchers are consistent across income groups, geographic areas, and private school characteristics, and are larger for younger children. These effects are not explained by the quality of fallback public schools for LSP applicants: students lotteried out of the program attend public schools with scores below the Louisiana average. Survey data show that LSP-eligible private schools experience rapid enrollment declines prior to entering the program, indicating that the LSP may attract private schools struggling to maintain enrollment. These results suggest caution in the design of voucher systems aimed at expanding school choice for disadvantaged students.

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