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CAMBRIDGE --- Cleveland voucher parents are much more satisfied with the private schools their children are attending than are Cleveland’s public-school parents, according to a new study by Harvard’s Program on Education Policy and Governance (PEPG). They perceive less fighting, vandalism, and racial conflict in their schools. First-year test score gains in the two schools with the largest enrollment were maintained in the second year.
The Cleveland voucher program, or Cleveland Scholarship Program (CSP), is the first program in the country to offer state-funded scholarships to low-income, inner-city students that can be used at both secular and religious private schools. CSP, now in its third year of operation, is currently the subject of debate in the Ohio State Legislature. In May 1999, the Ohio Supreme Court declared the procedure by which the original legislation was passed to have been constitutionally flawed, necessitating repassage of the legislation as a separate piece of legislation.
Harvard’s Program on Education Policy and Governance (PEPG) at the Kennedy School of Government surveyed parents in the summer of 1998, two years after the program began. In a newly released evaluation, the authors report finding that:
Parents of voucher recipients were more satisfied with many aspects of their school than were parents of students in Cleveland public schools.
Nearly half of the parents in voucher schools reported being "very satisfied" with the academic program of their child’s school, as compared to less than 30 percent of public school parents.
Half of the voucher parents were "very satisfied" with school safety, as compared to just over 30 percent of public-school parents.
With respect to school discipline, about half of the voucher parents were very satisfied, but only a quarter of public-school parents were.
Test score results in mathematics and reading show substantial gains for CSP students attending the two Hope schools, which were established in response to the creation of CSP.
Between the beginning of the school year in the fall of 1996 and the spring of 1998, these students, on average, gained relative to the national norm,7 percentile points on the reading test and 15 percentile points in math. These improvements on these test scores occurred during the program’s first year – although no incremental gains were observed in year two, initial gains were maintained.
Parents of voucher recipients report lower levels of disruption in their child’s school.
Only 12 percent of the parents of voucher recipients report "fighting" as a problem at their child’s school, whereas 27 percent of public-school parents say this is a problem.
Racial conflict is said to be a problem by 10 percent of the public school parents but only 5 percent of the voucher parents.
Reported vandalism rates are 13 percent and 3 percent for the two groups, respectively.
Public school parents report just as high levels of involvement in school activities and the education of their children at home as do the parents of scholarship recipients.
School mobility rates among voucher recipients and students in Cleveland public schools were essentially the same.
Voucher recipients were more likely to be African American.
Also, they were economically more disadvantaged than the average public-school family; they had lower incomes, were more likely to be single parent families, and less likely to have their children in a program for gifted students.
Mothers of voucher recipients had more education, were more likely to attend religious services, and were less likely to have a child in a special education program.
CSP scholarships covered up to 90 percent of a school's tuition, or a maximum of $2,250. Approximately 3,000 students participated in the program in its second year, and 3,674 students participated in the third year. The PEPG survey collected information from random samples of two groups:
Parents of children in grades 1 to 4 who previously had been attending a public school but used a CSP scholarship to attend a private school;
Parents of children who had attended public schools in grades 1 to 4 during the 1997-98 school year.
The authors of the report are Paul E. Peterson, William G. Howell, and Jay P. Greene.
A copy of the report is available at the following website: http://data.fas.harvard.edu/PEPG/ or e-mail PEPG@latte.harvard.edu.