The school voucher program in Washington, D.C., has been the subject of serious research, with opponents and supporters of vouchers using at as a test for whether the idea works in practice. Conservativestend toinsist that it’s been a success, though the studies of the program don’t seem to bear that out.
Washington Post columnist George Will (4/23/09), though, sees a new Education Department study bolstering the case for vouchers, which means the White House’sdecision tocurtail the program is a horrible blow tochildren in the struggling D.C. schools:
After Congress debated the program, the Education Department released–on a Friday afternoon, a news cemetery–a congressionally mandated study showing that, measured by student improvement and parental satisfaction, the District’s program works. The department could not suppress the Heritage Foundation’s report that 38 percent of members of Congress sent or are sending their children to private schools.
Huh. Given all the attention paid to the D.C. voucher experiment, it’s striking that this apparently significant news would pass with so little comment. But if you go to the Department of Education website to find this report proving that the “District’s program works,” you find this summary of the research (OSP stands for Opportunity Scholarship Program):
The evaluation found that the OSP improved reading, but not math, achievement overall and for 5 of 10 subgroups of students examined. The group designated as the highest priority by Congress–students applying from “schools in need of improvement” (SINI)–did not experience achievement impacts. Students offered scholarships did not report being more satisfied or feeling safer than those who were not offered scholarships, however the OSP did have a positive impact on parent satisfaction and perceptions of school safety. This same pattern of findings holds when the analysis is conducted to determine the impact of using a scholarship rather than being offered a scholarship.
So improved reading scores, but not math, and no discernable positive impact on the studentsmost inneed. Maybe these results, which arein keeping with previous studies of the D.C. system, didn’t get much attention becausethey actually aren’t helpful to conservatives pushing to expand school vouchers–no matter what George Will seems to think.