- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 29, 2000

Black students in three cities with voucher programs showed significant improvements on standardized reading and math tests when compared with their public school counterparts. So says a new study whose results are of profound importance in the debate over school choice in general and during this presidential election year in particular.

The researchers studied 1,470 students in grades two through eight, and most of them were black. Results show that students who use vouchers in New York, Washington and Dayton, Ohio, scored a combined 3.3 percentile points higher after one year than those who remained in public schools, and 6.3 points higher after two years. D.C. students fared best of all, scoring 9 percentile points ahead of students in D.C. public schools.

Said one of the study authors, Paul Peterson of Harvard's John F. Kennedy School of Government, the "benefits of the program for African-American students close the national test-score gap between white students and African-American students by one-third." The study findings are to be presented next month during meetings of the American Political Science Association.

The study compared scores on the Iowa Test of Basic Skills over two years and also compared students with similar motivations and family backgrounds. For example, unlike publicly funded voucher programs in Milwaukee and Cleveland, vouchers in the District are privately financed and granted by lottery. So the researchers compared the performance of students who won vouchers with those who lost out, essentially avoiding unfair comparisons in earlier studies that compared the academic standings of students in private vs. public schools.

Of course, opponents of vouchers must find some reason to disagree with the findings. This new study, they argue, is biased. The research was "supported by a bevy of voucher-supporting conservative foundations," educational psychologist and testing expert Gerald W. Bracey told The Washington Post. "I am suspicious of research findings favoring vouchers under those circumstances." He and other critics will have to do more than shoot the study sponsor though.

Experts, meanwhile, are rightfully calling the study "impressive" and "extremely important." It's impressive because it truly is an unusual study, and extremely important because it suggests vouchers are helping the very students who need them most. Moreover, voters in California and Michigan are facing ballot measures on vouchers, and the Republican and Democratic nominees for president are weighing in daily on the school-choice debate. This time the evidence is staring Vice President Gore, to say nothing of D.C. school officials, straight in the face.

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