TOPPING THE LIST ON WHAT MATTERS MOST:
Texas Students Outperform Voucher States on Key Academic Benchmarks
Many supporters of education savings accounts, tax credit scholarships, and other school voucher programs promise these schemes will provide better educational options and even improve the performance of public schools. They bemoan Texas is “behind” other states on “private school choice.” Yet evidence on educational achievement shows Texas generally outperforms these voucher states on many metrics.
Every two years, students around the country take part in the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP). The NAEP is run by the National Center for Education Statistics and is given to students in 4th, 8th and 12th grades. The main subjects are math and reading, but students are also tested in science, the arts, and other subjects. States are required to participate in the 4th and 8th grade math and reading assessments.
Because states generally have their own curriculum requirements and state tests, the NAEP represents the only opportunity to compare students’ performance across states on a common examination. Policymakers often look to increases and decreases in NAEP scores as proof a policy works (or doesn’t).
In a 2015 study of 2013 NAEP scores (the most recent for which this analysis has been completed), the Urban Institute used student-level NAEP data to assess how well the students in each state performed compared to similar students in other states. By this measure, Texas is more effective at educating students than states that have bought into the educational privatization movement. Texas outperformed all the states which received an A or B rating for their private school choice program on the American Legislative Exchange Council’s (ALEC) Report Card on American Education for 2015: Arizona, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Louisiana, Mississippi, Nevada, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, Vermont and Wisconsin. In fact, Texas outperformed all states except Massachusetts and New Jersey.
In addition to Texas students outperforming similar students in other states for one given year, Texas is also exceeding expectations for predicted performance based on demographic shifts over longer periods of time. In other words, Texas student performance is outpacing demographic expectations. The Urban Institute report studied how states’ NAEP scores have changed over the years from 2003-2013, compared to an expected change in score based on changes in the state’s demographics over this period. On this measure, Texas performed as if students had received approximately 10 extra months of instruction compared to its predicted performance. Of the 13 states ALEC gave an A or B for their private school choice program, only three states’ students performed better compared to their expected scores than those in Texas, while Texas and Florida’s score changes were virtually equal.
Texas also outperforms ALEC’s A and B states on high school graduation rates. The 2016 “Building a Grad Nation” Report looked at the Adjusted Cohort Graduation Rate (ACGR) of all 50 states. The ACGR captures the percent of students who graduate in four years, based on the number of students who began 9th grade, adjusted to include students who move into the state and remove students who move out of state or pass away). For the 2013-14 graduating cohort, Texas outperformed all of ALEC’s A and B states, except Wisconsin, which it trailed by just .3 percentage points. However, Texas outperformed Wisconsin, and all other states except Indiana, in the percentage of low-income students who graduated.
Unlike some states that have succumbed to the will of the national private school choice lobby, Texas has hewed to a conservative and ultimately more effective path of pursuing high-quality public choice approaches that deliver options for students and families that are transparent, accountable, and effective. This approach ensures both a sound return on Texans’ educational investment and careful stewardship of taxpayer dollars.
VOUCHERS ARE NOT THE SOLUTION
Education Savings accounts and tax credit scholarships are the same ol’ voucher, also known as government subsidies for private schools with no transparency, accountability, or proven results.