Out of Control Policy Blog

Hiding the Evidence on the DC School Voucher Program

The federal Department of Educaton released the third year evaluation of the DC voucher program Friday afternoon, in an obvious attempt to hide the findings. The Department sat on this report while the Democratic Congress voted to dismantle the program. Yesterday the Wall Street Journal told the sordid tale:

Mr. Duncan's help in New York is in stark contrast to his department's decision to sit on a performance review of the D.C. voucher program while Congress debated its future in March. The latest annual evaluation was finally released Friday, and it shows measurable academic gains. The Opportunity Scholarship Program provides $7,500 vouchers to 1,700 low-income families in D.C. to send their children to private schools. Ninety-nine percent of the children are black or Hispanic, and there are more than four applicants for each scholarship.

The 2008 report demonstrated progress among certain subgroups of children but not everyone. This year's report shows statistically significant academic gains for the entire voucher-receiving population. Children attending private schools with the aid of the scholarships are reading nearly a half-grade ahead of their peers who did not receive vouchers. Voucher recipients are doing no better in math but they're doing no worse. Which means that no voucher participant is in worse academic shape than before, and many students are much better off. . . .

Voucher recipients were tested last spring. The scores were analyzed in the late summer and early fall, and in November preliminary results were presented to a team of advisers who work with the Education Department to produce the annual evaluation. Since Education officials are intimately involved in this process, they had to know what was in this evaluation even as Democrats passed (and Mr. Obama signed) language that ends the program after next year.

Mathew Ladner, an education analyst with the Goldwater Institute, asks how President Obama will respond  to the new evidence in the National Review.

On March 10, Pres. Barack Obama gave a major education speech before the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce. In that speech, he declared that Secretary of Education Arne Duncan “will use only one test when deciding what ideas to support with your precious tax dollars: It’s not whether an idea is liberal or conservative, but whether it works.”

How sad, then, to see the shameful behavior of Duncan’s department in sitting on, burying, and spinning the third-year evaluation of the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program. . . .

The program works. In fact, the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship program is one of the few programs funded by the Department of Education about which we have supportive evidence of the highest possible scientific quality.

The Department of Education has been funding a multiyear random-assignment study of the program’s impact. In the most recent evaluation, participating students showed gains equivalent to 3.7 months’ worth of additional reading achievement, a statistically significant difference from the control group.

Kids in the D.C. Opportunity scholarship program deserve the same chance to go to a higher quality school as President Obama's own children. The taxpayers of the United States deserve at least one education program that actually gets results in exchange for the money. In comparison, to the $100 billion we are spending on traditional public schools, the $7,500 per student in the voucher program, which is much cheaper than paying for a student in the D.C. public schools, is a real bargain.

Lisa Snell is Director of Education


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