The GiveWell Blog

Why scholarships disappoint?

We’ve wondered why scholarship programs don’t have a stronger impact on academic achievement, and have guessed that it’s because disadvantaged children are so far behind by age 5 that they need special schools, with a special approach, if they’re to have any hope of catching up.

The quote below, from an article in the Washington Monthly (h/t Kevin Carey), offers another possibility: the private schools students with vouchers attend may be little better than the public schools they leave. This is a report on the Milwaukee voucher project, not the New York programs we’ve focused on, but it makes me wonder if New York private schools could be as troubled.

In 2005, a team of reporters from the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel visited all but a handful of the private choice schools, and found that “the voucher schools feel, and look, surprisingly like schools in the Milwaukee Public Schools district. Both … are struggling in the same battle to educate low-income, minority students.” The Journal Sentinel also reported that the absence of oversight from the much-derided government bureaucracy had led to a significant waste of public funds, and even outright fraud. At least ten of the 125 private schools in the voucher program “appeared to lack the ability, resources, knowledge, or will to offer children even a mediocre education.” Most of those schools were led by individuals who had negligible experience and had no resources other than state payments.