by Donna Krache

(CNN)—A recently released study by the Brookings Institution at Harvard has stirred up the debate over school choice and vouchers.

CHARTER SCHOOL ENROLLMENT RISING—More students are attending charter schools across the country than ever before, according to a report from The National Alliance for Public Charter Schools. Over 2 million students are enrolled in charters today. These students are studying American History at Coney Island Prep, a successful charter school in Brooklyn, New York. (Credit: Steve Kastenbaum/CNN)

In some districts and states, parents can get vouchers to pay for their children’s education. Parents may choose to send their children to religious or private schools using the vouchers as payment for tuition. Much of the research surrounding the effectiveness of vouchers centers on more immediate outcomes, such as test scores.

The Brookings study was based on data collected on students who were recipients of vouchers from the privately funded New York School Choice Scholarships Foundation program. In 1997, the foundation offered three-year scholarships of up to $1,400 per year to 1,000 low-income families whose children were either entering first grade or were already in public schools in second through fifth grades. The Brookings study claims to be the first that used “a randomized experiment to measure the impact of school vouchers on college enrollment.” It also claims to be one of only a few studies to track longer-term outcomes, years after students received their first vouchers.

Overall, the study found no effect on college enrollment, except among African-Americans, where there was significant impact.

“Our estimates indicate that using a voucher to attend private school increased the overall college enrollment rate among African-Americans by 24 percent,” say Matthew M. Chingos and Paul E. Peterson, the study’s authors.

The study also indicates that enrollment rates in “selective colleges” more than doubled among African-American students who received vouchers.

The American Federation for Children, which calls itself “the nation’s voice for school choice,” quickly praised the findings. In a statement, senior adviser Kevin P. Chavous said, “Once again, the evidence clearly shows that putting all educational options on the table pays dividends for the students, both now and in the long term.”

But the National School Boards Association said the “study doesn’t live up to the hype.”

In a statement, Anne L. Bryant, the association’s executive director, said the study didn’t account for the level of parental involvement in a child’s education, which can also have a huge impact on academic success.

“Clearly the parents who chose this program were dedicated, and parent involvement is key,” Bryant said.

(You can read the study, “The Effects of School Vouchers on College Enrollment,” at research/topics/education)

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