June 2003 Church & State | People & Events

Cleveland's eight-year-old voucher program has failed to boost the academic performance of the students taking part in it, a new study indicates.

The analysis, conducted by independent researcher Kim Metcalf of Indiana University, found that students participating in the voucher program are doing no better academically than their public school counterparts.

"There are no consistent, significant differences in achievement between scholarship and public school students by the end of third grade," wrote Metcalf in the executive summary of the analysis. "This finding holds across all of the available achievement measures (reading, language arts, mathematics, social studies, science and total battery.)"

The Cleveland plan was promoted as a way to help low-income and minority students escape troubled public schools by paying for their tuition at Catholic and other private schools. But Metcalf and other scholars at the Indiana Center for Evaluation found that the program is serving mostly white students from higher-income families who had already been enrolled in private schools.

That finding is consistent with an analysis of the voucher program done last year by the Akron Beacon Journal. The newspaper found that only about a third of the students taking part in the program came from poor households.

Ohio Gov. Robert Taft, a voucher supporter, refused to comment on the outcome of the study, telling the Beacon Journal through a spokesperson that he had not yet seen the report.

The Arizona School Boards Asso­ciation (ASBA) examined the Indiana University data and issued a report asserting that public school students actually made greater gains than their counterparts in the voucher schools. The ASBA noted that the public school students made these gains even though their students were poorer overall.

Observed the ASBA report, "There­fore, over the four years that the Cleve­land voucher program was studied, students who attended private schools had lower gains in academic achievement then those students who attended public schools, even though the public school students had lower starting scores, were less affluent and more minority. And only the elite of the voucher students were able to outscore the public school students."