In Final Analysis, Cleveland Voucher Students Are Just Average

Published April 1, 2004

Students who received publicly funded school vouchers through the Cleveland Scholarship and Tutoring Program (CSTP) performed as well academically as their public school counterparts, according to a third analysis of the program, released in December 2003, by the Indiana University School of Education. Although students who left the program and returned to the public schools experienced an initial academic decline, over time their achievement rose to a level comparable to that of the other students.

The report was the final annual report of the longitudinal effects of the school choice program. The research team, led by Kim K. Metcalf, has followed a cohort of scholarship participants and non-participants since 1998, tracking their academic achievement and school experience.

“A safe, orderly environment is the single most important school attribute for families, and the academic quality of the school and its teachers are consistently close behind,” the researchers found. Class size, diversity, and extracurricular activities are less important considerations.

Additional costs associated with private school attendance and the limited supply of private schools posed barriers for some families. Other families withdrew from the program or simply did not apply because of legal uncertainty prior to the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2002 decision. The court decision heightened parents’ awareness of the CSTP programs and the city’s charter school, or community school, program.

Enacted in 1995, CSTP provides students in grades K-10 with vouchers worth up to $2,700 for tuition at a private school of choice. Students may also choose to attend another public school or receive tutoring. Currently, about 5,098 students participate in the program.

The new study, “Evaluation of the Cleveland Scholarship and Tutoring Program 1998-2002,” examines the characteristics of five groups of students:

  • students using the voucher;
  • those who applied but did not receive a voucher;
  • those who did not apply;
  • those who received a voucher 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 fourth grade in 2002.

Researchers also collected information about classroom characteristics and teacher experiences. They conducted a separate interview of randomly selected parents of second-, fourth-, and eighth-graders in Cleveland’s public and private schools to determine what influences parents’ decisions about schooling.

Although the study determined the population of scholarship winners was similar to the public school population, the following points were noted:

  • 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’ families.
  • The proportion of Hispanic and multiracial children in the voucher population was twice that of the public school student population.

Classroom characteristics were similar in public and private schools. Each had around 22 students per teacher. Teachers in both types of schools had 12 years of teaching experience and had spent half of their careers at their present school. Public school teachers were slightly more likely to be certified and have completed coursework beyond a master’s degree.

One unexpected finding was that students in larger classes had higher achievement. Also, while public school teachers with a higher level of education had higher-achieving students, the opposite occurred in private schools.

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

For more information …

The December 2003 report from Indiana University School of Education, “Evaluation of the Cleveland Scholarship and Tutoring Program 1998-2002,” is available online at