As states across the country agree to spend more public money sending students to private schools, many educators worry that these programs will skim the strongest students from the public schools and push out weak students who do not meet academic standards.
A 2022 study from researchers Joseph Waddington and Ron Zimmer of the University of Kentucky, and Mark Berends of the University of Notre Dame tested those concerns and found that while there is no evidence to support claims of “cream skimming,” there is evidence that private schools are pushing out their lowest-achieving voucher students.
To test these claims, the research team used longitudinal, student-level data from Indiana, which has had a voucher program for more than a decade. They found that low-achieving voucher students are also 3 to 9 percentage points more likely to move from private schools than high-achieving voucher peers. They also found that low-achieving voucher students are 1 to 3 percentage points more likely to transition from their private schools than similar students at traditional public schools are to leave their schools.
These findings provide some insight into practices among private schools that accept school choice vouchers. Identifying schools that are not committed to uplifting all students, regardless of their background, can contribute to great accountability among schools and improve educational outcomes for students.
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Cream Skimming and Pushout of Students Participating in a Statewide Private School Voucher Program
Joseph Waddington, Ron Zimmer, and Mark Berends