Parents Hail Cleveland Voucher Program

Published August 1, 1999

Low-income parents in Cleveland who use publicly funded vouchers to send their children to private schools are more satisfied with key aspects of their child’s educational environment–such as academic quality, school safety, and discipline–than are parents of students in Cleveland public schools, according to a new survey.

Voucher parents also reported lower levels of disruption at their child’s school in terms of racial conflict, fighting, and vandalism.

The survey results are reported in a June 1999 study from Harvard University’s Program on Education Policy and Governance (PEPG). The study, “An Evaluation of the Cleveland Voucher Program After Two Years,” was written by PEPG Director Paul E. Peterson of Harvard University, William G. Howell of Stanford University, and Jay P. Greene of the University of Texas at Austin.

Last summer, the researchers surveyed 505 parents of students who received vouchers through the Cleveland Scholarship Program (CSP), and 327 parents of students in the Cleveland public schools.

“The parent survey indicates that CSP has won a strong endorsement from the low-income families participating in it,” concluded the researchers. Based on the information contained in their report, they recommend that the Cleveland voucher program be continued and expanded by the State of Ohio.

In a first-year evaluation of the voucher program, the authors had found much higher levels of parental satisfaction among voucher recipients than among parents who had applied for but did not receive a voucher. (See “Cleveland Parents Are Highly Satisfied With Choice Schools,” School Reform News, November 1997.)

That report was criticized on the grounds that little was proved by comparing a group of parents who were happy to have received vouchers to a group of “sour grapes” parents who had not. For this second-year evaluation, the voucher parents were compared to a randomly selected group of public school parents.

Although voucher applicants whose children remained in the public schools were slightly less satisfied with the public schools than public school parents in general, the differences were not statistically significant.

“Not much evidence can be found for those who think dissatisfaction with public schools is limited to scholarship applicants,” conclude Peterson, Howell, and Greene.

According to the new survey, parents of voucher recipients are more likely to be “very satisfied” with almost every aspect of the choice schools their children attend than are parents of students in the Cleveland public schools. The factor that had the largest impact on parental satisfaction was whether or not the child attended a private school. The most satisfied parents were those with students in Catholic schools, closely followed by parents of students in the two new Hope schools.

The Hope schools were established three years ago when students with vouchers could not find seats at private schools in Cleveland. Between the fall of 1996 and the spring of 1998, students at these schools showed gains of 7 percentile points in reading and 15 percentile points in math. Those gains were achieved in the first year that students attended the Hope schools. While the gains were generally maintained in the second year, they did not continue to rise.

Only a tiny fraction of the parents new to choice schools reported that their child had been expelled from their private school. Choice critics often claim that private schools achieve better discipline and better academic results simply by selecting the best students and expelling low-performing students. Voucher students were less likely to be enrolled in a gifted program than their public school counterparts.

In another rebuke to choice critics, who charge that choice programs benefit the better-off at the expense of the poor, the new survey shows that voucher recipients were more likely to be economically disadvantaged than the average public school family. Voucher families had lower incomes and were more likely to have only one parent in the home. While roughly one-third (36.3 percent) of the control group of parents from Cleveland public schools earned less than $15,000 a year, almost half (49.9 percent) of voucher families earned less than $15,000 a year.

For more information …

The full text of the June 1999 PEPG report, “An Evaluation of the Cleveland Voucher Program after Two Years,” is available on the Internet at The October 1997 initial report, “Lessons from the Cleveland Scholarship Program,” is available at