- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 9, 2002

Inner-city black students in voucher programs consistently scored higher than their peers in public schools, say two researchers who have been doing an unprecedented study of voucher programs.
These results indicate a need for more research on larger, better-funded voucher programs in cities with large black populations, said Harvard University professor Paul E. Peterson and William G. Howell, assistant professor of political science at the University of Wisconsin at Madison.
"Vouchers should be given serious attention," Mr. Peterson said during a forum at the Brookings Institution yesterday.
Mr. Peterson and Mr. Howell have reported their findings in a new book, "The Education Gap: Vouchers and Urban Schools," published by Brookings.
Patrick J. Wolfe, assistant professor at Georgetown University's Public Policy Institute, and David E. Campbell, a fellow at the Center for the Study of Democratic Politics at Princeton University, contributed to the book.
Some of their research was presented to the U.S. Supreme Court in February during oral arguments about the constitutionality of the voucher program in Cleveland.
Mr. Peterson and Mr. Howell studied data from voucher programs in New York City, Washington, San Antonio, Dayton, Ohio, and the Children's Scholarship Fund.
Their initial tests involved about 4,100 voucher students from New York, the District and Dayton. Study periods ran between 1997 and 2001.
They found that in New York City's privately funded voucher program, black students had test scores substantially higher more than nine percentile points than public school students.
This difference in the black children's scores erased almost half of the "achievement gap" that is found nationally between black and white students, Mr. Peterson said yesterday.
The professors also found that, overall, black children in voucher programs had test scores three percentile points higher in the first year, six percentile points higher in the second year and six percentile points higher in the third year, compared with peers in public schools.
The researchers cautioned they also found:
White and Hispanic children in voucher programs did not score significantly higher than their peers in public schools.
In Washington, black students in voucher programs saw scoring gains after two years but no significant difference from public school peers after three years.
One reason for this fading effect could be the District's extensive use of publicly funded but academically innovative charter schools, which are advancing many of its public school students, the researchers said.
New York City, they noted, has very few charter schools; none of the public students surveyed were in charter schools.
Princeton University economics professor Alan B. Krueger said yesterday he remained skeptical about the potential of school vouchers for "saving the children or the school system."
The data often showed no difference between voucher students and public school students, and in cases where there were differences in scores, more needs to be known about the reasons for this discrepancy, he said at the Brookings event.
The Peterson-Howell research "provides no explanation for why only African-American students would benefit from vouchers and Hispanic and white students would not, which is very much a head-scratching conclusion," said Michael Pons, a policy analyst at the National Education Association.
The association's view, Mr. Pons added, is that there are many things school districts can do hire better teachers, create smaller classrooms, teach summer school that would improve educational outcomes for all students.
In his talk, Mr. Peterson speculated that a lack of educational choice for black families may be one reason voucher students tested higher, but he agreed that more research was needed.
In any case, he said, the New York City data, coupled with other promising results from Milwaukee, which established the nation's first voucher program, indicate that "it's time to go to larger [voucher] demonstration projects in large cities."


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