Saturday, June 23, 2007

Voucher Study

A new study done by Patrick Wolf and his colleagues (full disclosure: I know and like Prof. Wolf) for the Department of Education looked at the performance of students in the D.C. voucher program, after about a year's worth of instruction in private schools. The New York Times summary is pretty accurate:
Students who participated in the first year of the District of Columbia’s federally financed school voucher program did not show significantly higher math or reading achievement, but their parents were satisfied anyway, viewing the private schools they attended at taxpayer expense as safer and better than public schools, according to an Education Department study released yesterday.
As page xxii of the study makes clear, previous research has shown that you usually see positive achievement results after at least two years in a voucher program, whereas this study looked only at the first year.

Note also that the voucher provides only up to $7,500, while the per-pupil spending in the D.C. public schools is nearly $13,000, close to the highest in the nation. (And as we've seen recently, the D.C. public schools doesn't do a very good job of spending that money wisely.)

The Washington Post story features a few negative comments:
"Vouchers have received a failing grade," said Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.). "This just makes the voucher program even more irrelevant."
* * *
The Bush administration wants to expand vouchers nationwide through revisions in the No Child Left Behind law. But Democrats said the new report will make it easier for them to kill such proposals.

"This report offers even more proof that private school vouchers won't improve student achievement and are nothing more than a tired political gimmick," Rep. George Miller (D-Calif.), chairman of the House education committee, said in a statement.
So a program that (at worst) achieves the same results, that makes parents more satisfied, and does so for about 57% of the cost, is a failure? It must take a more subtle and sophisticated mind than mine to understand such a view of the world.



Blogger Scott McLeod said...

Why must students with vouchers, or any other school choice mechanism (e.g., charter schools, cyberschools), do BETTER academically than regular schools in order for them to be palatable? If achievement effects are the same, and other factors (e.g., student safety, parent satisfaction) are improved, why not?

9:21 PM  
Blogger FreeMarket said...

Great post! I’d like to ask Rep. George Miller how giving students an option to attend non-public schools is a “tired political gimmick”. The freedom to attend the school of your choice seems like a pretty noble goal to me.

11:27 AM  

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