(Guest post by Matthew Ladner)
The Department of Education released the final report of the evaluation of the DC Opportunity Scholarship Program today. The major finding of this report, and it is MAJOR, is that students who were randomly selected to receive vouchers had an 82% graduation rate. That’s 12 percentage points higher than the students who didn’t receive vouchers. Students who actually used their vouchers had graduation rates that were 21% higher. Even better, the subgroup of students who received vouchers and came from designated Schools in Need of Improvement (SINI schools) had graduation rates that were 13 percentage points higher than the same subgroup of students who weren’t offered vouchers–and the effect was 20 percentage points higher for the SINI students who used their vouchers!
This is a huge finding. The sorry state of graduation rates, especially for disadvantaged students, has been the single largest indicator that America’s schools are failing to give every student an equal chance at success in life. Graduating high school is associated with a number of critical life outcomes, ranging from lifetime earnings to incarceration rates. And, despite countless efforts and attempts at reform, changing the dismal state of graduation rates has been an uphill battle.
Of course, the uphill battle will continue. As most are aware, Congress voted to kill the DC voucher program last year, despite evidence that the program had significantly improved reading achievement for students who received scholarships. That evidence didn’t count for much when faced with opposition from teachers’ unions.
In the final report, the reading achievement findings just miss the Department of Education’s threshold for statistical significance. As a result, the spin put out by the administration claims that there is “No conclusive evidence that the OSP affected student achievement.” This is wrong of course. Last year’s (third year) report DID find conclusive evidence that the Program raised student achievement in reading. A close read of this year’s final report reveals that the sample size of students in the final year was smaller because a number of the students participating in the study had graded-out of the Program. It’s not surprising then that the statistical significance of the reading effects fell just short of the required level. Still, with a p-value of .06, we can say that we are 94% certain that the treatment group did outperform the control group in reading in the final year. Moreover, the final report found statistically significant achievement gains for 3 of the 6 subgroups they examined.
In sum, the five-year evaluation of the DC voucher program has shown that low-income students who recieved scholarships have higher graduation rates, higher student achievement, increased parental views of safety, and increased parent satisfaction. There was not one single negative finding over the entire course of the evaluation. I’d say that’s quite a success for a program that spent a fraction of the per-pupil amount spent in DC public schools.
So when does the re-authorization begin?