Dr. Chris Lubienski is a professor of education policy at Indiana University. His research focuses on the impacts of charter schools and vouchers in the United States and in other nations around the world. Raise Your Hand Texas sat with Lubienski to discuss the outcomes of school voucher programs, particularly among disadvantaged populations.
Raise Your Hand Texas: Tell us why you began studying vouchers?
Lubienski: I’m professor of education policy and I’m really interested in the effects on equity, or access—especially for disadvantaged students—of these different reform programs. I’ve been looking at this for about two decades now since charter schools and vouchers got started in the U.S.
What is equity in education and why is it important?
Lubienski: Equity is sewn into the fabric of our public education system. When you look at the foundation of public schools in the U.S., it was very much about providing equal opportunity for all, and we’ve increased what we mean by “all” over the years to mean all students, no matter their circumstances. But public education was meant to be the great balancing wheel to level the playing field. And a lot of times we’ve failed at that, but it’s at the root of the effort of public ed.
What is the status of equity for students?
Lubienski: In the U.S., it’s not that great actually … Even though we like to think about the American dream, and people moving to the U.S. and getting a good education, and having great opportunities for their children and the future, we’ve actually fallen behind in a lot of ways. When we look at our country compared to other nations, the U.S. has a very segregated school system, segregated by socioeconomic status. If you are born to a poorer family, you are likely to go to a poorer school as well, and that’s a big problem.
Some say school choice is the way to address the socioeconomic divide. What can choice do?
Lubienski: The idea behind a lot of choice programs is that wealthy people already have choice, but poor kids can’t afford to move to a nice neighborhood, or get into private schools. The idea behind choice is that that will open up access and opportunity for kids to cross district lines to get into better schools. That’s what I’ve examined—whether or not that’s happening and whether that affects achievement outcomes and kids’ future opportunities.
So does it? Does “choice” work for students when it comes to vouchers?
Lubienski: In the last couple of years, we’ve seen some high-quality studies of large-scale voucher programs similar to what we see proposed in Texas. In these places, the results are unanimous, as far as, being large and negative, which is a big shift in our understanding of the effects of voucher programs. Students who use vouchers to attend a private school are hurt academically by doing that. The rate of their learning compared to their peers slows down. They would have learned more if they had stayed in public schools.
So what does the research recommend as better ways to help students?
Lubienski: There’s a lot of research that looks at different types of interventions and programs and the payoffs. In vouchers, they’re minimal at best. But what we do know is that investing in early childhood education or better training for teachers really does have a payoff in the end, and we see substantial gains from that that are cumulative over time and students benefit from having more trained teachers or access to early childhood programs.