Black Student Voucher Performance, Bias Experiences Studied
By Tiffany Danitz, Staff Writer
Black students taking advantage of school voucher programs in Dayton, Ohio, and the District of Columbia are displaying improved math and reading scores after just six months of private school, according to a Harvard University study.
That's significant because white students score an average of 25 points higher than black students on a commonly used standardized achievement test.
Researchers at Harvard's John F. Kennedy School of Government caution that it's too early to draw "strong conclusions" from their findings, because the students being monitored haven't attended a full year of private school yet.
Voucher programs provide scholarships that allow public school students to transfer to private schools. The 570 black students in the Dayton voucher program received $1,200 apiece, while the 950 black District of Columbia students each got $1,700.
"If the initial findings from Dayton and D.C. hold up over time, vouchers for (black) students beginning in elementary school may help eliminate the black-white test score gap," says Paul E. Peterson, a Kennedy School of Government professor who co-authored the school voucher report.
The Kennedy School is also studying voucher programs in Cleveland, New York City and San Antonio, Texas.
Florida is the only state with a formal, statewide voucher program, while Cleveland and Milwaukee are the only cities with government-funded programs. Voucher programs elsewhere have been subsidized by non-profit organizations.
States considering voucher legislation include Alaska, Colorado, Georgia, Illinois, Maryland, Michigan, Mississippi, Missouri, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, South Dakota and Washington.
In Dayton, the Kennedy School found that black voucher students attending second grade through eighth grade scored an average of seven points higher in math and five points better in reading on the national Iowa Test of Basic Skills than their black public school counterparts.
"If the gap (between black and white test scores) can be reduced by a one-fifth or more in one year, it gives hope that the difference can be eliminated altogether over the course of the other eleven years of schooling, "Peterson said.
Appreciable improvement was also shown by black District of Columbia voucher students attending second grade through the fifth grade. They outscored their African American peers in public school by six points in math and two in reading.
Meanwhile, another study finds that African-American students in a dozen large school districts nationwide tend to be disciplined at a higher rate than white and Asian students, and are not given an equal chance to take advanced placement courses.
The left-leaning Applied Research Center (ARC) canvassed K-12 schools in Los Angeles, San Francisco, Boston, Chicago, Miami-Dade County and Denver. ARC also examined school districts in Durham, North Carolina; Austin, Texas; Missoula, Montana; Providence, Rhode Island; Columbia, South Carolina and Salem, Oregon.
"The inequality is persistent and pervasive and amounts to a deep pattern of institutional racism in U.S. public schools," said Libero Della Piana, a co-author of "Facing the Consequences: An examination of Racial Discrimination in the U.S. Public Schools."
Among other things, California-based ARC found that:
- Black, Latino and Native American students were more likely to be suspended or expelled than white students.
- In Durham, N.C., where African American students make up 58 percent of the student population, only 26 percent are in advanced placement courses, which are essential for preparing students for college.
- Teaching corps that didn't reflect the racial makeup of the student body, leading to minority students not being challenged and therefore less likely to pursue higher education.
ARC is asking that school districts be required to record and publish statistics that also reveal a student's age, sex and race. "We may have measured only the tip of the iceberg," Piana says.
Links to both studies:
School Choice at John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University: http://data.fas.harvard.edu/pepg/
Applied Research Center's "Facing the Consequences": http://www.arc.org/