School Choice and “The Truly Disadvantaged”

Albert Cheng and Paul E. Peterson
Year of publication: 
May 18, 2021
Education Next

How can we improve academic achievement and college attainment for disadvantaged students? To address this question, education researchers typically assess the impact of various interventions on all students whose family income falls under the limit for free or reduced-price school lunch—a broad category that fails to account for the effects of ethnicity and class in combination, as well as the considerable differences in economic and cultural resources among lower-income families in the United States.

This includes an earlier study co-authored by one of us, which used a randomized control trial to evaluate a school-voucher intervention in New York City and found modest positive impacts on college enrollment of African American and Hispanic American students (see “The Impact of School Vouchers on College Enrollment,” research, Spring 2013). That study, like many others, did not explore whether the program’s effects differed based on varying levels of disadvantage. We return here to the New York City voucher program to do just that.

Our study looks at the impact of using a voucher on college enrollments and on degree attainment. We also estimate effects of just being offered a voucher, even if it is not used to enroll in a private school. Our data now cover a span of 21 years, which allows us to record college enrollment and attainment up to seven years after a student’s anticipated date of high-school graduation and observe students’ college-going behavior even if their education was interrupted.

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