When school vouchers are not a leg up

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School voucher programs allow students to use public funds to pay for private school. This concept is very controversial. Supporters say vouchers force schools to compete for students which strengthens the quality of all schools. Opponents say vouchers weaken public schools because they drive out top-performing students and leave less money for remaining students.

Until now the evidence on effectiveness has been mixed. Research has shown voucher programs having either no effect on academic outcomes or a slightly positive effect. But a new paper is one of the first to show a school voucher program actually lowering student test scores.

Economists from Duke University, M.I.T., and UC-Berkeley studied the Louisiana Scholarship Program,  which gives public funds to poor students at low-performing public schools to go to private schools of their choice.

Parag Pathak is one of the authors of the new study. He’s an economist who leads M.I.T.’s School Effectiveness and Inequality Initiative. He joins Stephen Smith on the podcast this week.