A new report has been released by Brookings Brown Center and the Harvard Kennedy School that measures the effect of a privately funded voucher program in New York City on student performance. In sum the study found that African American students accepted into the program were more likely to go to college, Hispanic students somewhat more likely, and no difference among white students.
As with a number of similar studies of vouchers and charters, the authors took advantage of the fact that the program could not accommodate everyone who applied, and a random drawing was used to select students. Also the ambivalent results are typical of the genre–in broad strokes that it is hard to see a difference but that differences may appear when subgroups are examined.
I have become increasingly convinced that the connection between governance and student achievement is an attenuated one at best. What affects student achievement is the teachers, principal, educational program, etc., at the school and that it is unlikely that governance choices will act on these in a consistent direction. So, in some situations, charters or private schools may take advantage of their relative freedom to adopt more effective programs than the neighboring public schools; but they may also use this freedom to make bad decisions.
What would be very valuable–but tough to do–would be to try to identify common characteristics of private schools that outperform their neighboring public schools.