What is the impact of school vouchers and what lessons can be learned from the available research on this topic?

July 10, 2018

The Effect of Voucher Programs on Student Achievement: A Meta-Analysis

News Summary: This meta-analysis examines the effectiveness of school voucher programs for improving student achievement. The research is of special interest for three important reasons; (1) it examines an important policy issue relevant to educators and the public, (2) it is an example of a study designed to replicate previous research on an important topic, and (3) it highlights the importance of examining the cost effectiveness associated with implementing practices in real world settings.

The use of school vouchers as a means to improve the quality of education has been an attractive, although controversial. It has been touted as a way to use public funding to overcome academic deficits in school systems. Enabling parents to exercise choice as to where to send a child to school is enticing. It appeals to the belief that exercising “control” over where your child can go to school will have an impaction the quality of education. The important question is, does this type of structural intervention produce both statistically significant, but more importantly do school vouchers produce socially significant academic gains?

This study tries to answer this question by replicating a previous meta-analysis of school voucher programs by Shakeel, Anderson, and Wolf (2016). The studies included in both meta-analyses required that to be included in the research individual studies must use randomized control trials of school voucher programs reporting quantitative measures of reading and/or math performance. The Wing Institute chose to include this new item to feature the need for replicating research as means to increase confidence in the results and broaden our knowledge base on a topic. The results indicated that, compared to the original study, this meta-analysis obtained smaller effect sizes with larger standard errors. This is not surprising as most replication of original research report smaller effects. The results of this research although somewhat smaller are consistent with the Shakeel, Anderson, and Wolf (2016) study. More importantly, both studies found that although the effects were for the most part positive they were very small ranging from 0.080 effect size on reading to 0.135 effect size on math.

It is important to note these results are also similar to those found in the Yeh, S. S. (2007) research on this topic. Yeh goes beyond reporting on effect size to examine the importance of putting effect size in the context of cost-effectiveness. It becomes quite clear when one asks the question, are school vouchers a cost effective intervention designed to deliver significant change, this intervention is found wanting. Yeh in his research concludes that educators and the public will be better served by adopting a practice such as formative assessment, that has a greater effective size (0.90) and can be implemented at a much smaller cost.


(1) Bennett, M., Banerjee, H. L.,  Doan, L. N., Geib, T., and Burley, A. (2018). The Effect of Voucher Programs on Student Achievement: A Meta-Analysis. AERA Conference New York, NY. 10.302/1302823.

(2) Shakeel, M., Anderson, K., & Wolf, P. (2016). The participant effects of private school vouchers across the globe: A meta-analytic and systematic review.

(3) Yeh, S. S. (2007). The cost-effectiveness of five policies for improving student achievement. American Journal of Evaluation28(4), 416-436.


(1) http://www.aera.net/Publications/Online-Paper-Repository/AERA-Online-Paper-Repository/Owner/997930

(2) https://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/ED567044.pdf