The chances of African-American students in New York City attending a four-year selective college more than doubled if they were offered a school voucher and used it to attend a private school, according to a new study released by the Brookings Institution.
The study, which researchers say is the first long-term look at the effects of school vouchers on college enrollment, found no other statistically significant effects for any other ethnicity, including Hispanics.
The nonpartisan think tank said that the research is based on a randomized experiment of data collected from the New York School Choice Scholarships Foundation program, which in 1997 awarded scholarships of up to $1,400 to low-income students who were entering first grade or already in a public elementary school. Families could then use vouchers to enroll their children in private or religious schools.
Researchers used the data to track the students who received vouchers and their eventual college-enrollment status. They then matched original data with outcomes of 99 percent of students.
Using a voucher for private-school enrollment bumped up the likelihood of an African-American student enrolling in college by 8.7 percentage points, a 24 percent increase from students who did not receive vouchers, the study found. The positive impact of vouchers for Hispanics was 1.7 percentage points, a statistically insignificant amount.
Socioeconomic status and cultural differences may also play a large role in the likelihood of low-income, minority-student success, the authors concluded. While Hispanic families may have seen the vouchers as a chance to enroll their children for religious or educational benefits, African-American families were more likely to see vouchers as a chance to elevate their children's chances of overcoming economic disadvantages.
Based on surveys of parents taken in the original data, researchers say Hispanic parents consistently rated their children's public school education as better quality than that of African-Americans. African-American children were also more likely to come from single-parent households and to lack a father figure.
These two elements led the authors to conclude that "the voucher option was less critical for Hispanic students than for African-American students" and that African-American parents were more likely than others to value the voucher as a means to level the educational playing field.
This case in point is key considering the criticism that has surfaced on this study.
The National School Boards Association said in a statement that the study failed to consider the amount of parental involvement in their children's education, which can affect the outcomes of their success.
The parents who were most involved in their children's educations are the ones who likely value vouchers — and sent their kids to private schools — the most.
"Clearly the parents who chose this program were dedicated, and parent involvement is key," NSBA Executive Director Anne L. Bryant said in the statement.
Like other critics of publicly funded vouchers for private schools, NSBA maintains that such programs adversely affect funding for public schools and eliminates accountability.
Advocates for such programs, including the American Federation for Children, maintain that school choice broadens educational opportunities, especially for low-income and underserved communities.
"This research makes clear the life-changing affect receiving a voucher can have on a child, and should be a signal to folks across the country that we need to bring more choice to the communities most in need. It is both a moral and an economic imperative that we do so," Kevin P. Chavous, an AFC senior adviser, said in a statement.
This article is from the archive of our partner National Journal.
This article is part of our Next America: Higher Education project, which is supported by grants from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and Lumina Foundation.