DC Voucher Program Vindicated
The Department of Education released its final planned study of the Washington, DC voucher program this week. The results indicate that the program was effective, as well as popular. Here is the blurb from the IES website.
The congressionally mandated evaluation of the Program compared the outcomes of about 2,300 eligible applicants randomly assigned to receive or not receive an OSP scholarship through a series of lotteries in 2004 and 2005. This final report finds that the Program had mixed longer-term effects on participating students and their parents, including:
- No conclusive evidence that the OSP affected student achievement overall, or for the high-priority group of students who applied from "schools in need of improvement."
- The Program significantly improved students' chances of graduating from high school, according to parent reports. Overall, 82 percent of students offered scholarships received a high school diploma, compared to 70 percent of those who applied but were not offered scholarships. This graduation rate improvement also held for the subgroup of OSP students who came from "schools in need of improvement."
- Although parents had higher satisfaction and rated schools as safer if their child was offered or used an OSP scholarship, students reported similar ratings for satisfaction and safety regardless of whether they were offered or used a scholarship.
Defenders of the status quo will point out that the program didn't affect "overall achievement overall." They will use this as an excuse to argue that it was a good idea to kill the program. The fact remains that, among other benefits, the DC voucher program has a 12% higher graduation rate than the bureaucracy-based system, all while spending about 1/3rd per student. This alone makes the program a stellar success and worthy of expansion.
If improving education outcomes for less money spent is a worthy goal, there is no intellectually sound argument against the DC voucher program. There certainly was no sound basis for killing the program.
Here is a link to the Executive Summary of the Study.