Do voucher programs force public schools into a zero-sum game by redirecting public funds and promising students to private schools? Or do school-choice options spur healthy competition by pressuring public schools to improve? Using data from Florida's Tax Credit Scholarship Program, David Figlio of Northwestern University argues that public schools improve their performance when faced with the prospect of losing students to nearby private schools through voucher programs, and that greater competition results in greater gains in public school students' test scores. In other words, the competitive effects of school choice could create a system where everybody wins.
Registration and Luncheon
DAVID FIGLIO, Institute for Policy Research, Northwestern University
NADA EISSA, Georgetown University
GROVER J. WHITEHURST, Brookings Institution
JANE HANNAWAY, Urban Institute
EMILY BATMAN, AEI
Question and Answer
WASHINGTON, JUNE 15, 2011--Education specialists debated Wednesday at AEI over a recent study finding that Florida public schools facing the threat of competition from voucher programs increased their quality of education. David Figlio of the Institute for Policy Research at Northwestern University studied the effects of the Florida Tax Credit Scholarship program, which enables low-income public school students to attend private schools. He noted that competition from the voucher program modestly increased performance at nearby public schools the year before the program started. Though students' test scores did not necessarily improve after attending private schools, the voucher program saved the state money, and parents who opted to use the vouchers reported increased satisfaction. Therefore, Figlio argued, the success and utility of the voucher program should not be measured solely by students' test results. Nada Eissa, an associate professor at Georgetown University, weighed the costs and benefits of voucher programs, concluding that they seem to be a public good. Russ Whitehurst of the Brookings Institution cautioned that it is difficult to pinpoint the steps schools would need to take to produce the competitive effects Figlio documented. A better explanation for the modest increases in performance at public schools, Whitehurst said, is families and students themselves. It is possible that the results seen in the public schools facing voucher competition came from increased exertion from parents who knew that their children had an opportunity to receive a voucher, and therefore may have been more involved in their studies. Jane Hannaway of the Urban Institute echoed Whitehurst's idea: parents are more likely to work hard with their children if they believe it will affect their opportunity to get a better education. All panelists agreed that states offering school-choice programs should be transparent about the programs' effects.
David Figlio is the Orrington Lunt Professor of Education and Social Policy, a professor of human development and social policy and economics, and a faculty fellow at the Institute for Policy Research at Northwestern University. Mr. Figlio is a research associate at the National Bureau of Economic Research, a member of the executive board of the National Center for the Analysis of Longitudinal Data in Education Research, and the inaugural editor of the American Education Finance Association's journal, Education Finance and Policy. His research on education finance, school accountability, unintended reactions to school policy changes, and related topics has been published in journals such as the American Economic Review, the Journal of Law and Economics, and the Journal of Public Economics, and it has been funded by the US Departments of Agriculture, Education, and Health and Human Services; the National Institutes of Child Health and Human Development; the National Science Foundation; and numerous private foundations. Mr. Figlio has assisted various states and foreign countries in the design and evaluation of education policies. He joined Northwestern in 2008 from the University of Florida, where he was the Knight-Ridder Professor of Economics.
Nada O. Eissa is an associate professor of public policy and economics at Georgetown University. From 2005 to 2007, she was deputy assistant secretary for microeconomic analysis at the Department of the Treasury. Previously, she was an economics faculty member at the University of California at Berkeley, a national fellow of the National Bureau of Economic Research, a visiting economist at the International Monetary Fund, and a visiting scholar at AEI. Ms. Eissa's research examines how tax and transfer policy affects work and family-formation decisions, and in turn what these behavioral responses imply for how programs should be designed. Her work has been published in major economics journals and widely cited in the media. Ms. Eissa's current research has expanded into education, including evaluating the DC Opportunity Scholarship Program, the first federally funded school-voucher program in the United States, and the impact of school choice on academic performance in public schools.
Grover J. "Russ" Whitehurst is the Herman and George R. Brown Chair and director of the Brown Center on Education Policy at the Brookings Institution. Previously, he was director of the Institute of Education Sciences at the US Department of Education; US assistant secretary for educational research and improvement; chair of the Department of Psychology at the State University of New York at Stony Brook; and academic vice president of the Merrill-Palmer Institute. Mr. Whitehurst is a widely respected and influential leader in education research and policy in the United States and around the world. His specializations include program evaluation, teacher quality, preschools, national and international student assessments, reading instruction, education technology, and education data systems.
Jane Hannaway is a principal research associate and director of the Education Policy Center at the Urban Institute, where she oversees the center's work and is a member of the institute's senior management team. She is also director of the National Center for the Analysis of Longitudinal Data in Education Research, a federally funded national research and development center. Ms. Hannaway previously served on the faculty of Columbia, Princeton, and Stanford Universities. She was also a senior researcher with the Consortium for Policy Research in Education. She has authored, coauthored, or coedited seven books and numerous papers in education and management journals. Ms. Hannaway is past vice president of the American Educational Research Association and also a member of the executive board. She was elected to the council of the Association for Public Policy and Management and the executive board of the American Education Finance Association.
Emily Batman is the program manager for AEI's National Research Initiative. She is a graduate of Wheaton College, where she studied political science and communication.
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