In a balanced story appearing this morning by the Washington Post’s Perry Stein, the reporter details a study released this week by the Institute of Education Sciences, which is the “statistics, research, and evaluation arm” of the United States Department of Education that evaluated the performance of the Opportunity Scholarship Program, the private school voucher plan in the District of Columbia for children living in poverty.
Comparing kids in the program to a control group of students who applied but did not receive a voucher, the group found that after two years of participation students scored lower academically in both reading and math. The lower reading scores were not significant, but for math the deficit was 10 points for those in the OSP. D.C.’s non-voting member of Congress, Eleanor Holmes Norton, who never misses a chance to denigrate the voucher program, commented to Ms. Perry, “That is my chief regret about the voucher program. . . If Congress is interested in putting money in schools, it should be putting that money where the results show the money should be.”
The funding from Congress for the OSP, which I’m sure Ms. Norton understands, goes equally to DCPS, charter schools, and private schools, and provides each with $20 million in revenue per year. The dollars have been divvied up this way ever since Joseph E. Robert, Jr. promoted the three-sector approach about 15 years ago.
What I could not find in the highly detailed study was the list of participating schools. The report does state that 59 schools accepted voucher students, which I consider a high number considering about 1,300 kids utilized the scholarships per term. The investigation does point out that of the institutions accepting OSP pupils “62 percent were religiously affiliated, and 38 percent were Catholic schools operating within the Archdiocese of Washington.” An interesting side note is that of those schools in the program, 70 percent charge tuition higher than financial award provided by the voucher.
I hope that the results of this study are going back to the schools that these children attend. It would be extremely interesting to hear their take on the results and whether this information impacts their approach to teaching low-income children. With all of the unfortunate politics surrounding providing school scholarships to kids living in poverty, it would be fascinating to see if pedagogical improvements come as a result of this data.