That’s the title of an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal about the results of a new study on how school vouchers affect their recipients.

President Barack Obama last month signed an executive order promising to "improve outcomes and advance educational opportunities for African Americans." The order instructs federal agencies to "promote, encourage, and undertake efforts" to increase "college access, college persistence and college attainment for African American students." Unfortunately, his administration remains opposed to the Opportunity Scholarship program in Washington, D.C., which lets students—mostly low-income and African-American—use a voucher to attend a private school.

Perhaps Mr. Obama will reconsider his position on vouchers now that we have for the first time tracked the impact of a voucher program all the way from kindergarten (in 1997) to college enrollment (in 2011). Our study compared students who won a voucher lottery with students who didn’t—the only difference between the groups was the luck of the draw, the gold standard in research design.

The study shows that an African-American student who was able to use a voucher to attend a private school was 24% more likely to enroll in college than an African-American student who didn’t win a voucher lottery.

Some take issue with voucher programs because the parents might actually spend the money on >gasp< religious schools (as noted in the article).

And given the money involved, they got better results for a lower cost.

These impacts are especially striking given the modest costs of the intervention: only $4,200 per pupil over a three-year period. This implies that the government would actually save money if it introduced a similar voucher program, as private-school costs are lower than public-school costs. To get a similar (19%) increase in college enrollment among African-Americans from a class-size reduction effort in Tennessee in the late 1980s, the public-school system had to spend $9,400 per pupil (in 1998 dollars).

But one of the barriers to this successful program is…politics, of course.

President Obama is certainly correct to identify the particularly steep educational barriers that African-American students must surmount if they are to become college-ready. And he seems to have nothing against private school per se, as he has long sent his own daughters to private schools. Yet—apparently thanks to opposition to vouchers from powerful teachers unions—the president still hasn’t taken the next step and helped open private-school doors for low-income children as well.

One more reason to consider when stepping into the voting booth this November.

    Filed under: DemocratsEducationPolitics

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