Rhetoric Versus Reality

What We Know and What We Need to Know About Vouchers and Charter Schools

by Brian Gill, P. Mike Timpane, Karen E. Ross, Dominic J. Brewer, Kevin Booker


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Education vouchers and charter schools are two of the most prominent and far-reaching forms of family-choice policies currently in evidence in the nation’s elementary and secondary schools. As such, they present important challenges to the traditional provision of public education in schools that are created, governed, funded, and operated by state and local authorities. This update of Chapters One and Three of a book originally published in 2001 reviews the theoretical foundations for vouchers and charter schools and the empirical evidence of their effectiveness as set forth in hundreds of recent reports and studies. It incorporates a substantial amount of new evidence on achievement effects, and it also examines the ways in which multiple dimensions of policy design — such as targeting, funding levels and limitations, admissions policies, academic standards and assessments, and accountability — will determine the nature and extent of any specific program’s impact. A comprehensive assessment is made of what is known about the effects of vouchers and charters in terms of not only academic achievement, but also family choice, equitable access, racial/ethnic integration, and civic socialization. The book discusses the important empirical questions that are as yet unresolved and considers the prospects for answering them in the future. Finally, it explores the details of the design of voucher and charter policies, concluding with recommendations for policymakers who are considering their enactment.

Table of Contents

  • Chapter One

    Family Choice and the Common School

  • Chapter Two

    Vouchers and Charters in Policy and Practice

  • Chapter Three

    Academic Achievement

  • Chapter Four


  • Chapter Five


  • Chapter Six


  • Chapter Seven

    Civic Socialization

  • Chapter Eight

    Conclusions and Policy Implications

The research described in this report was supported by the Gund Foundation, Spencer Foundation, Annie E. Casey Foundation, and Carnegie Corporation of New York and conducted within RAND Education, a program of the RAND Corporation.

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