Cleveland Voucher Students Match Public School Peers

Published June 1, 2003

In March 2003, the Indiana Center for Evaluation at Indiana University released the newest of a seven-year series of evaluations of the Cleveland Scholarship and Tutoring Program (CSTP). By the end of third grade, this third study found, students who attended private schools using vouchers performed at about the same level as comparable students who stayed behind in the public schools. In addition, larger classes were associated with higher achievement.

Enacted in 1995, the Cleveland Scholarship and Tutoring Program provides elementary school students with vouchers worth up to $2,250 for tuition at a private school of choice. Students may also choose to attend another public school or receive tutoring. Currently, about 5,200 students participate in the program.

In June 2002, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the program, ruling the use of public money to provide vouchers for students to attend private and religious schools does not violate the Establishment Clause of the U.S. Constitution.

The new study, “Evaluation of the Cleveland Scholarship and Tutoring Program 1998-2001,” examines the characteristics of students who used the voucher to attend private school and compares them with the characteristics of non-participants.

Indiana University researcher Kim K. Metcalf and his colleagues looked at five groups of students: students using the scholarships; those who applied but did not receive a voucher; those who did not apply; those who received a scholarship but chose not to use it; and those who used vouchers for a year or two before returning to the public school system. Students in the study began as first graders in 1998 and were in the third grade in 2001. Researchers collected data by phone, face-to-face interviews, surveys, tests, and focus groups.

The study determined the population of scholarship winners was similar to the public school population; however, students using unclaimed lottery scholarships were less likely to be black, making the overall scholarship population less African-American than in the public schools. These late-award students were more likely to be from families with higher incomes than the initial lottery winners. The proportion of Hispanic and multiracial children in the voucher population was twice that of the public school student population.

Researchers also compared school environments in private and public schools, examining the characteristics of classrooms and teachers. In both types of schools, most teachers were certified and had completed some graduate coursework. Class sizes were larger in private schools. Larger classes were associated with higher achievement.

The study found students on scholarships did as well as their public school counterparts. Students who left the program and returned to the public schools had been faring worse academically than other students in the study, and they continued to do so in the public schools.

The previous study, published in September 2001, concluded that “Students who entered the Scholarship Program as kindergartners were achieving at significantly higher levels than other students when they entered first grade” and that, while public school students made academic gains in the first grade, students who used vouchers for three years remained ahead academically.

An earlier study of Cleveland voucher students, published in September 1999, had found a small but statistically significant improvement in language and science achievement scores of voucher students who attended existing, rather than new, private schools after two years.

The latest study raises a number of questions:

  • How do the private schools in the program achieve academic results similar to the public schools at a fraction of the per-pupil cost?
  • Why is achievement in the private schools associated with larger class sizes?
  • What is the long-term trend?

The study provides a partial answer to the last question.

“Although it is not statistically significant in the data available to date, there is some evidence of a pattern of slightly greater annual achievement growth among students who have used a scholarship continuously since kindergarten,” note the study’s authors. “If this pattern continues, the achievement of this group of students may become noticeably, and meaningfully, higher than that of public school students.”

However, the researchers point out, an additional three to five years of study are needed to confirm–or discount–the pattern of greater annual achievement growth.

Krista Kafer is senior policy analyst for education at The Heritage Foundation. Her email address is [email protected].

For more information …

The March 2003 report from the Indiana Center for Evaluation at Indiana University, “Evaluation of the Cleveland Scholarship and Tutoring Program 1998-2001,” is available online under “Report Links” at Four earlier reports also are available.