Wednesday, August 31, 2011

New Findings Reveal Tax Credit Program Outpaces Public School Counterparts While Serving Most Disadvantaged Students

Making news today is a set of new findings from David Figlio, a researcher at Northwestern University and the University of Florida, revealing that students enrolled in Florida's school choice programs are making stronger academic gains than comparable students in public schools.

While the results are not revelatory—at least for those of us who've been working on this issue for a while—they do confirm assertions that the data have been making for some time now: targeted, means-tested school choice works. Especially in a place like Florida, which has in many ways been a pioneer in both its creation for school choice programs as well as the legislature's ability to garner significant bipartisan support, findings have been consistent in showing high marks for student achievement and parental satisfaction, as well as cost-savings to the state.

Gerard Robinson, the state's new education commissioner, said that the results were encouraging while also pledging his continued support to the Florida Tax Credit Scholarship Program, the state's flagship and only means-tested program.

Our friends over at Step Up For Students have released a press release detailing some of the most important findings. There are two in particular that stuck out to us.

In addition to gains in reading and math by voucher students that exceeded the performance of "similar low-income students in public schools," students who participate in Florida school choice programs (emphasis ours):
...have significantly poorer test performance in the year prior to starting the scholarship program than do non-participants. ... These differences are large in magnitude and are statistically significant, and indicate that scholarship participants tend to be considerably more disadvantaged and lower-performing upon entering the program than their non-participating counterparts.
And one more, as quoted from Step Up For Students: "Figlio wrote that these higher gains were made more impressive by the fact that scores of low-income students in public schools were also increasing."

The reality of these findings, and many more like them, is that they hamstring two of the most oft-repeated arguments against choice. It does not hurt public schools, as critics like to claim with an eye solely trained on the expenditures bottom line. Kids in school choice communities—whether they participate in the programs or not—ALL do better. From both a school competition standpoint and as a result of the reshaped class setting in which they now learn, public school students are better off.

And perhaps most importantly, school choice helps the most disadvantaged kids out there. As the study shows, the kids who enter choice programs are usually the worst-performing among a group that is, frankly, all struggling as a result of being dealt a tough hand. Critics say that any positive data about school choice is the result of private schools' ability to be selective; in reality, voucher schools are not working to protect themselves, inflate their numbers, or participate in any underhandedness that is often part of accusations they face. That they're doing the best with the students who are most behind is proof positive of the fact that these programs help all children.

If this isn't an incentive to bring school choice to more communities, we're not sure what is.

Read a portion of the St. Petersburg Times story on the results here, and some analysis from RedefinED here.

- American Federation for Children | Alliance for School Choice, MAG

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