NEPC Review: The Effects of Means-Tested Private School Choice Programs on College Enrollment and Graduation (Urban Institute, July 2019)
A report by the Urban Institute, The Effects of Means-Tested Private School Choice Programs on College Enrollment and Graduation, compares certain outcomes of three school voucher programs to traditional public school programs. It finds that students using vouchers to attend private schools sometimes have higher rates of college enrollment and completion than their public school counterparts. These findings, however, arise from comparisons of apples to oranges, because the two case studies showing some voucher benefits do not sufficiently account for pivotal differences between choosers and non-choosers. Only in the third case study, which uses random assignment and thus avoids these selection effects, do we see no voucher benefits. Two other concerns are important to note. First, the literature review places an unbalanced reliance on non-peer-reviewed sources. Second, the report attempts to “move the goalposts” away from the test-score outcomes that have been the center of voucher advocacy and debate for decades—coinciding with recent voucher studies finding null or negative effects on test scores. These shortcomings render the report of limited value for evaluating voucher policies.