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African-American school children in New York City who received a voucher to attend a private school were more likely to enroll in college than their public school counterparts, according to a study released last week by the Brookings Institution and Harvard’s Program on Education Policy and Governance.

For more than a decade the study tracked students who received privately-funded vouchers in the late 1990s. African-American students in that group were 24 percent more likely than those in a control group to attend college and 58 percent more likely to attend private four-year colleges. Hispanic students who received vouchers were also more likely to enroll in college, but only by a small, statistically insignificant, amount.

The study’s authors—Brookings’ Matthew M. Chingos and Harvard’s Paul E. Peterson, a voucher advocate—compared the college matriculation rates of about 1,300 students who received a voucher to a similarly-sized control group who did not win vouchers in a lottery. The study is unusual in that it focused on long-term educational attainment rather than short-term test-score trends.

Vouchers have resurged in popularity over the last two years, but it’s unclear whether the New York study has much relevance for states like Indiana, Wisconsin, and Louisiana, which have recently expanded or created voucher programs. The designs of those states’ programs, as well as the overall quality of their private-school sectors, vary significantly.

The study’s authors argued their research illustrates the promise of vouchers in a Wall Street Journal op-ed. But Rutgers professor Bruce D. Baker critiqued the study in a blog post, saying other factors—apart from vouchers—could have contributed to the higher college-going rates for African-Americans at the private schools.

More information and context about vouchers can be found in a recent Hechinger Report article.

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Sarah Carr has reported and edited for Hechinger for more than a decade. She is currently the Ottaway Visiting Professor of Journalism at SUNY New Paltz, teaching a course on covering inequality through...

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