The Voucher Sell Just Got Harder

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A study conducted by the US Department of Education’s Institute of Education Sciences (IES), found that students in Washington DC’s federally funded voucher program performed worse academically, particularly on math test scores, after a year of private school. Reading scores were also lower, but researchers say that was not statistically significant (statistical significance helps to quantify if results are likely due to chance or  other factors).

The District of Columbia Opportunity Scholarship Program (OSP) was created by Congress in 2004 to provide tuition vouchers to low-income parents who want their child to attend a private school. This is the only federally funded program in the country.

The program selected students to receive scholarships using a lottery process in 2012, 2013, and 2014, which allowed for an experimental design that compared outcomes for a treatment group (995 students selected through the lottery to receive offers of scholarships) and a control group (776 students not selected to receive offers of scholarships) (source).
This table shows the impact of the program after one year (source).

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There have been numerous studies conducted recently on the effectiveness of vouchers, data is consistent that children from low-income families who attend private schools on vouchers do not perform better. According to Rios (2017):
  • A November 2015 study of Indiana’s voucher program determined that students who attended private school through the program scored lower on math and reading tests than kids in public school.
  • In Louisiana, students who attend private schools through the voucher program showed significant drops in both math and reading in the first two years of the program’s operation, according to a February 2016 study by researchers at the Education Research Alliance of New Orleans.
  • Researchers at the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, a conservative think tank, concluded in a July 2016 study of Ohio’s voucher program that students who took part in the voucher program fared worse academically than those who attended public schools (Rios, 2017).

All this comes on the heels of this administration posturing to dump $1.4 billion into more federally funded voucher programs. Mrs. DeVos had few things to say about the findings of the DC study.  She has long argued that vouchers help poor children escape from failing public schools. In defending the DC program, she said,  it is part of an expansive school-choice market in the nation’s capital that includes a robust public charter school sector. She added, When school choice policies are fully implemented, there should not be differences in achievement among the various types of schools (Brown, 2017).

I guess she didn’t read the study.

Opponents of vouchers read it, and were quick to stand behind the study.

  • Martin West, a professor of education at Harvard, said the D.C. study adds to an emerging pattern of research showing declines in student achievement among voucher recipients, a departure from an earlier wave of research (Brown, 2017).
  • Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA.), who sits on the Senate Education Committee, said that given the findings of the study,  DeVos should “finally abandon her reckless plans to privatize public schools across the country” (Brown, 2017).
  • Bobby Scott (D-VA.), serving as ranking member of the House Committee on Education and the Workforce, slammed the DC voucher program in a statement to the Associated Press. “We know that these failed programs drain public schools of limited resources,” he said, “only to deliver broken promises of academic success to parents and students” (Rios, 2017).

According to the website for the Opportunity Scholarship Program, the OSP – offers scholarships – sometimes called vouchers – to low income children in the District of Columbia to attend a participating D.C. private school of their choice.  Ninety seven percent of participating children awarded scholarships are African-American and Hispanic, with an average income for participating families less than $22,000 per year. Nowhere does it say how successful the program is, because it isn’t. Nor does it say how students are better served, because they aren’t.

DeVos continues to sell the federal voucher program, and so far it’s working because she’s still talking. She wants to replicate the ineffective DC voucher program and take it on the road. The pricetag? $1.4 billion.

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A snake oil salesman knowingly sells fraudulent goods or who is himself (or herself) a fraud, quack, or charlatan.

These are my reflections for today.

5/6/17

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Author: Meg White

I am a lifelong educator and I hope to use this blog to reflect on what's happening in public education. These are my musings, opinions, and reflections. If you learn from them, good for us. Ignorance is no excuse. I have co-authored a book, "Questioning Assumptions and Challenging Perceptions: Becoming an Effective Teacher in Urban Environments" (available on amazon)

2 thoughts on “The Voucher Sell Just Got Harder”

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      Like

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