Voucher advocates have protected D.C.’s voucher program, known as “Opportunity Scholarships,” since it was created in 2004 despite lack of strong evidence for its benefits. Evaluations have found little or no improvement in test scores. This new evaluation shows negative effects on test scores in the elementary grades for those who enrolled in voucher schools. This echoes studies in Louisiana, Indiana, and Ohio, where voucher students lost ground as compared to their peers who were offered vouchers but stayed in public schools. In the past, the D.C. evaluation team was led by Patrick Wolf of the University of Arkansas, the high temple of school choice. The evaluation team for this new study was led by Mark Dynarski of Pemberton Research and a group of Westat researchers. Dynarski, you may recall, wrote a paper for the Brookings Institution calling attention to the negative impact of vouchers in Louisiana and Indiana. Previous evaluations showed higher graduation rates in voucher schools, but also–as is now customary in voucher schools–high rates of attrition. Of those who don’t drop out and return to public schools, the graduation rate is higher.
Caitlin Emma reports in Politico:
A new study of D.C.’s Opportunity Scholarship Program — the nation’s only federally funded voucher program — finds that vouchers had a negative impact on the reading and math test scores of elementary school students.
While students in grades six through 12 did see increases in test scores, those weren’t considered statistically significant, researchers report. The study, published by the National Center for Education Evaluation and Regional Assistance, considered the effects of being offered a voucher and using a voucher after just one year. Scores were based on results from low-stakes standardized tests, rather than from the Common Core-aligned PARCC test, used by D.C. for accountability purposes.
Students who didn’t receive the vouchers and attended average D.C. public schools received more reading and math instruction time in elementary school than students who used vouchers, which could have contributed to the negative effects, the study concludes.
The vouchers didn’t have a statistically significant impact on parent satisfaction or involvement with their child’s school, but parents who were offered or used the vouchers were more likely to see their child’s school as very safe.
Education policy advocates believe the Trump administration and Republicans in Congress are poised to breathe new life into the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program. In March, a House committee advanced a bill to broaden the pool of students eligible for the vouchers.
Prior research has found that the program had a positive impact on high school graduation rates and reading scores, but a negligible impact on math scores.
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