While Cleveland, Ohio’s school choice scholarship program has been the target of much criticism from public school supporters such as the American Federation of Teachers, the families whose children are enrolled in the choice program have few if any complaints. A new study finds that parents of children newly enrolled in choice schools were much more satisfied with every aspect of their schools than were the parents of children still in public schools.
The new study, “An Evaluation of the Cleveland Scholarship Program,” was conducted this past summer by Paul G. Peterson, director of Harvard University’s Program on Education Policy and Governance, together with program associates Jay P. Greene of the University of Texas at Austin and William G. Howell of Stanford University. They surveyed more than 2,000 parents, including those whose children were scholarship recipients and those who applied but did not participate.
The research team found that 63 percent of choice parents, but less than 30 percent of public school parents, were “very satisfied” with the “academic quality” of their school. While only a quarter of public school parents reported being “very satisfied” with school safety and school discipline, nearly 60 percent of choice parents were “very satisfied” with school safety and 55 percent were “very satisfied” with school discipline.
The largest difference in satisfaction rates was observed on “teaching moral values.” Only 25 percent of public school parents were “very satisfied” with this aspect of their child’s school, compared to 71 percent of choice parents.
Cleveland’s school choice program is the first to provide state-funded scholarships for low-income students to attend religious or secular schools. The scholarships cover up to 90 percent of the cost of school tuition, up to a maximum of $2,250, which is roughly one-third of the per-pupil cost of the Cleveland public schools. When the program was opened to pupils entering grades K-3 last year, more than 6,200 applicants applied for the 2,000 available scholarships.
Peterson and his colleagues point out that, although the Cleveland program was established as a randomized experiment, the demographic characteristics of choice families “did not differ from those remaining in public schools.”
“In fact,” said Peterson, writing in the Wall Street Journal, “the voucher recipients actually had lower incomes than the group to which they were compared.”
The Peterson et al. report is available on the World Wide Web at http://data.fas.harvard.edu/pepg/. Click on the “papers” link.