Last month President Obama signed an executive order to form the new White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for African Americans.
According to the White House, the new initiative, which will work across federal agencies, “aims to ensure that all African American students receive an education that fully prepares them for high school graduation, college completion, and productive careers.”
Parents and taxpayers would be correct to be skeptical of a new Washington initiative to improve student outcomes. A new evaluation released today by Matthew Chingos of the Brookings Institution and Paul Peterson of Harvard shows a far more promising route to improving academic opportunity for the students the President’s initiative aims to help.
The study examines the impact of vouchers, worth up to $1,400, that were offered to low-income students to attend a private school of choice in New York City. The evaluation followed 2,600 voucher recipients. Notably, the researchers found a 24 percent increase in college enrollment among African American students who were awarded and used vouchers to attend private schools. As Jay Greene notes:
No significant effects were observed for Latino students nor for the very few white students in the sample. It appears that choice has the biggest effect on those whose options would have been the worse in the absence of a choice program. It is also worth remembering that the scholarship was good for only half of private school tuition, so it is possible that a more generous program would have a broader effect.
The research by Chingos and Peterson builds on a growing body of evidence demonstrating the potential of school choice to improve academic outcomes. The congressionally mandated evaluation of the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program found that students who used vouchers to attend private schools had a 91 percent graduation rate. Graduation rates in D.C. Public Schools hover around 60 percent.
In Florida, researchers Marcus Winters and Jay Greene found that the competitive pressure placed on public schools as a result of the McKay Voucher Program for special needs children actually improved outcomes in the public system as well as outcomes for voucher recipients. School choice also increases student safety and parental satisfaction—another reason education options are proliferating across the country.
Improving academic outcomes for students won’t be accomplished by new federal initiatives or programs. History has proven as much over the past four-and-a-half decades. A near tripling of inflation-adjusted per-pupil federal spending, $2 trillion in federal spending on education since 1965, and the presence of 150 federal education programs have all failed to move the needle on student achievement or narrow achievement gaps between white and minority students.
By contrast, school choice has demonstrated time and again the many benefits that can be realized when students are given the opportunity to attend schools that meet their unique learning needs.