Enrollment in private schools, often through vouchers, has been part of an effort to improve academic success for disadvantaged children in the United States. Evidence on the outcomes of such initiatives has been mixed. A longitudinal study by Robert C. Pianta and Arya Ansari, Does Attendance in Private Schools Predict Student Outcomes at Age 15? Evidence From a Longitudinal Study, suggests that the results have more to do with student background than school quality.
This study followed approximately 1,000 children from 10 locations across the country from birth to age 15. About one-third of students were enrolled in private schools at any time. The objective was to examine the extent to which enrollment in private schools between kindergarten through 9th grade was related to students’ outcomes at age 15. The study looked at students’ achievement, social adjustment, attitudes and motivation, and risky behavior.
The results show that after controlling for the sociodemographic characteristics, the advantages of private school education were eliminated. There was no evidence suggesting that low-income children benefited more from private school enrollment. Yet, the report does mention the limitations of the study, mainly that it was not experimental in nature. It recognizes there is some evidence from other experimental literature that voucher programs could have benefits.