D.C. OSP: Don’t Jump to Conclusions!


(Guest Post by Jason Bedrick)

Much has been said about the recent IES study of D.C.’s Opportunity Scholarship Program (see the responses from Jay Greene and Neal McCluskey, as well as Matt Ladner’s response to a related “flawed and shallow” NYT op-ed), but that didn’t stop Marty Lueken and I from wading into the debate. Our main point: don’t jump to conclusions.

What was ignored by most of the media coverage of the report is that most of the “control group” of non-voucher students either attended a chosen charter school (42%) or a private school (10%), so using the IES results to bash school choice is simply irresponsible. Moreover, most coverage failed to report the significant differences in funding. As we note:

The average OSP voucher ($9,422 in FY 2015–16) is less than half the per-student amount received per pupil at D.C. charter schools (over $21,000) and less than one-third of the per-student amount received in the D.C. district schools (over $30,000).

Importantly, the expanded availability of school choice over the last decade has coincided (not coincidentally) with a substantial increase in overall parental satisfaction among non-voucher parents:

The first IES study of the OSP, published in 2007, found that 74 percent of scholarship parents gave their child’s school an “A” or “B” compared to only 55 percent of parents in the control group. A decade later, the control group’s satisfaction had risen to 72.4 percent, an increase of more than 17 percentage points. The greater availability of school choice means parents are more likely to find a school that meets their child’s needs.

Finally, we should reiterate that test scores are but one of many factors parents consider when deciding on a school. Indeed, the obsessive focus on boosting math and reading test scores may have unintended consequences:

[The] improved math and reading test scores among the charter and district schools may reflect a worrisome narrowing of the curriculum. The IES report noted that district and charter school principals reported more instruction time spent on math and reading than private school principals. It may be the case that there is more “teaching to the test” going on in these schools.

While tests can be informative, parents know their kids are more than scores.

Politicians should avoid using test scores as the sole basis for policy decisions, especially because, as Jay Greene has shown, there is an increasing disconnect between test scores and important measures of later-in-life outcomes. Moreover, evidence suggests that a more holistic education is better in the long run than a narrow focus on reading and math.

We have not yet discovered the educational panacea — and we likely never will. Until then, parents are in a better position than technocrats to figure out what’s best for their kids.

3 Responses to D.C. OSP: Don’t Jump to Conclusions!

  1. matthewladner says:

    Wow…where does that $21,000 figure come from? I guess the real question is not “why are DC private schools in a death spiral?” but rather “how can any of them still be open?” if that figure is accurate.

  2. Jason Bedrick says:

    Marty crunched the figures based on the most recent NCES data.


  3. […] is a recent study of the DC Opportunity Scholarship Program, and that study has been shown to be flawed in many […]

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