DC Vouchers Boost Graduation Rate

June 22, 2010

(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?

DC NAEP Scores-Where is the Death Spiral?

May 13, 2010


(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

No one seems to be taking much note of it, but some Washington DC has some very favorable trends in their NAEP scores.

To be sure, the District’s scores still reflect widespread academic failure on an inexcusable level for a district blowing through $20k per child per year. The positive trend predates Michelle Rhee’s tenure, which is good, as I think we are likely to see further (badly needed) progress. It is still too early to judge whether Rhee will accelerate this rate of progress, but I’d be willing to bet she will.

If you go to the NAEP page for DC and look at the 4th grade reading scores, you will find that the catastrophically low score of 188 in 1992 fell to an even more pathetic 179 in 1994.   That’s almost a grade level drop from an already low base. A score of 179 makes me wonder what the score would be if we simply gave every child in DC a library card and hoped for the best. Mind you, that wouldn’t work well either, but it couldn’t work that much worse than DCPS circa 1994. Since 1994, however, scores have climbed 23 points. The percentage scoring basic or better increased from 24% in 1994 to 44% in 2009. Math improvement has also been impressive and shows the same trend- progress after the mid 1990s.

One blindingly obvious cause for the improvement: the 100 charter schools operating in the district educating over 30,000 children. DC’s charter law passed in 1996 (near the bottom of DC performance) and the opening of schools has been very strong. In 1996-7, DCPS had 78,648 students enrolled. In 2007-08 it had dropped to 58,191.

This is no doubt why DCPS spending per pupil has spiralled to such absurdly high levels. No on apparently thought that it might be appropriate to cut the budget for a district that is 20,000 fewer students, but I digress. DC’s scores still stink, but in the progress department they have clobbered all states other than Delaware and Florida.

I’m not willing to celebrate a district that spends over $20k per student per year and has 56% of 4th graders illiterate. I am however willing to celebrate progress, and DC has momentum. If they would like to accelerate that progress, parental choice policies that would be helpful would be to reverse the shameful decision of the NEA robots majority of the Democratic caucus to kill the DC Opportunity Scholarship Program. The program merits not only renewal but a large expansion.

In addition, DC should institute a McKay Scholarship program with children with disabilities, if they would like to stop paying for the 5th homes and country club memberships of the attorneys endlessly battering DCPS on failure to provide FAPE under IDEA. Both the kids and the district budget would win big from such a program.

The enemies of parental choice have always painted the nightmare scenario of an academic death spiral for the children “left behind” in the district. Perhaps these same folks would like to explain to us now how it is that DCPS lost a quarter of their students since the mid 1990s and watched their reading scores improve by 23 points. Where is the death spiral? Oh, I mean in DCPS scores.  The death spiral for the credibility of choice opponents is impossible to miss.

Anyone Remember March of 2009?

January 14, 2010

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

On March 10, Pres. Barack Obama gave a major education speech before the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce. In that speech, he declared that Secretary of Education Arne Duncan “will use only one test when deciding what ideas to support with your precious tax dollars: It’s not whether an idea is liberal or conservative, but whether it works.”

On March 13, Senate majority whip Dick Durbin (D., Ill.) wrote of the D.C. scholarship program in the Chicago Tribune:

Allowing the program to continue through end of next school year (2009–2010) will give Congress a chance to examine all the evidence to determine whether or not this program works.

U.S. Sen. Joe Lieberman, chairman of the authorizing committee, has promised a timely hearing on reauthorization of this program.

Many benefiting from this program want no questions asked about its efficacy. I think the taxpayers deserve better.

Well, well, well- the results are in: The program works. In fact, the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship program is one of the few programs funded by the Department of Education about which we have supportive evidence of the highest possible scientific quality.

Head Start on the other hand sucks wind in producing results when subjected to a random assignment evaluation.

President Obama will surely be calling for the transfer of Head Start funding into the DC Opportunity Scholarship Program any second now.

It Takes a Union of Millions to Keep Poor Kids Down

October 22, 2009

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

I double dare Congressional opponents of the DC Opportunity Scholarship Program to watch this video to the end.

The aspirational ideals of the Democratic party, or for that matter any decent person, simply cannot be reconciled with the filthy reality of repealing the program.

Arne Duncan’s Doubleplusgood Doublespeak

September 30, 2009

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

ABC quoted Arne Duncan yesterday on DC vouchers:

“The children who were in school, we fought hard to keep them in their schools. Congress has made it clear they are not accepting any additional students,” Duncan told ABC News last month. “So, kids that were in schools, we wanted them to go. Kids who weren’t yet in when the program ended, according to Congress, it didn’t make sense. … I encourage them to come in and look at what’s going on with the public schools here in D.C. It’s pretty exciting.”

Duncan strongly opposes vouchers and has made clear his belief that the money is better spent investing in lasting reforms.

“Vouchers usually serve 1 to 2 percent of the children in the community. And I think we, as the federal government, we as local governments or we as school districts, we have to be more ambitious than that,” Duncan said in a speech before the National Press club last May.

“I don’t want to save 1 or 2 percent of children and let 98 to 99 percent drown. We have to be much more ambitious than that. And we have to expect more,” he added. “This is why I would argue … rather than taking three kids out of there and putting them in a better school and feeling good and sleeping well at night, I want to turn that school around now and do that for those 400, 500, 800, 1,200 kids in that school, and give every child in that school, in that community, something better and do it with a real sense of urgency.”

Oi vey…

Duncan’s logical flaws smell so overwhelming that there isn’t really any need for me to point them out.  Duncan’s absurd claptrap does however remind me of a joke:

So one day a great flood came, and the sheriff went to the house of a man to tell him that he needed to evacuate to higher ground. “No, God will save me” replied the man.

So the storm raged on. The man’s house flooded, forcing him to flee to his roof. Rescue workers came in a canoe to save him, but the man again refused, saying “No, God will save me.”

Finally, the man stood desperately atop of his chimney. A rescue helicopter flew by and threw him a rope ladder, which he refused. “God will save me!” he screamed to the helicopter crew.

So the water rose and the man drowned.

After entering the Pearly Gates, the man asked “God why didn’t you save me from the flood?”

God replied “What do you mean? I sent you a police car, a canoe and a helicopter.”

If Duncan thinks DC schools are “exciting” then why doesn’t he enroll his own children in them? Strangely enough, they are off in the suburban Virginia schools. Admittedly, checkbook school choice does serve way more than “1 or 2 percent” of students.

“I don’t want to save 1 or 2 percent of children and let 98 to 99 percent drown. I am however willing to let 30-40 percent buy their way out and let the other 60 to 70 percent drown, so long as my kids are among those safely sequestered in the leafy suburbs.”

What’s that?  He didn’t say that?

You forget: actions speak louder than words.

DC Council: Continue Opportunity Scholarships

July 10, 2009




















(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

Yet another BOOOOOM! Now a majority of the DC City Council weighs in for DC Opportunity Scholarships!

Read the letter at the DC Children First website here.

Or read it below:DC letter 1 












DC letter 2 







WaPo: Why deny D.C. children what special-needs students get?

April 28, 2009

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

The Washington Post editorial page weighs in again on choice, this time in the context of the Forest Grove vs. T.A. case pending before the United States Supreme Court.

The WaPo raises an interesting question: if special needs students have a right to a private school remedy in cases where the public schools have failed to provide an appropriate education, why shouldn’t other children poorly served by public schools enjoy the same right? Kids like those attending DC public schools. A strong case can be made that public schools have horrendous track record in educating both inner city children and children with disabilities.

Of course you wouldn’t want to clog the courts with lawsuits like the special needs law created.  A voucher program with a voucher amount less than the total spending per pupil would be far more equitable and efficient.

Lieberman and Collins: Save the 200 victims of the Friday Night Massacre

April 23, 2009

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

In a bipartisan appeal, Senators Joe Lieberman and Susan Collins wrote a letter to Secretary Duncan asking him to reverse the Departments decision to rescind Opportunity Scholarships to 200 DC school children (HT Whitney Tilson).

The letter reads:

Dear Secretary Duncan,

We are following up on our letter dated March 17, 2009, asking that you refrain from making any administrative rules  or policies that would disrupt the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program (OSP) or prevent the grantee from accepting applications and students for the 2009-2010 school year. Prior to a response to our inquiry, we were disappointed to learn that you subsequently made the choice not to allow new students to enroll in the program.

By preventing new scholarships from being awarded, you are effectively ending a program before Congress has had the opportunity to consider reauthorizing it. Therefore, we respectfully request that you consider reversing your decision.

As we noted in our letter to you, the future of the OSP is presently under consideration by the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs. We will be holding hearings on the program in May, and Majority Leader Reid  has promised floor time to consider a reauthorization proposal. We respectfully request that you refrain from implementing significant changes to the program until we have an opportunity to review the program’s results, hold  public hearings, and have a thoughtful debate about the future of the program.

Your recent decision to suspend the program for new entrants will hurt families who are searching for other options for their children. We understand that many of these parents had been notified that they would, in fact, receive scholarships for their children. Now that the DC Public School’s out of boundary process has been completed and the majority of public charter school deadlines have passed for the 2009-2010 school year, the suspension decision will leave these families with little or no opportunity to explore viable alternatives.

We will continue to support the D.C. Public School System in its efforts to improve outcomes for all students. However, in the interim, we must continue to provide options such as the OSP and provide families real choices in ensuring access to a quality education for their children.

We thank you for your immediate attention to this matter.


Joseph I. Lieberman

Susan M. Collins

Democrats for Education Reform and BAEO Weigh In

April 23, 2009

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

Will Democrats live up to their ideals when it comes time to reauthorize DC Opportunity Scholarships, or shamefully repudiate those ideals with their actions? With a series of damning indictments piling up, none have been more accurate or pointed that this one by George Will:

As the president and his party’s legislators are forcing minority children back into public schools, the doors of which would never be darkened by the president’s or legislators’ children, remember this: We have seen a version of this shabby act before. One reason conservatism came to power in the 1980s was that in the 1970s liberals advertised their hypocrisy by supporting forced busing of other people’s children to schools the liberals’ children did not attend.

I predicted that a growing number of Democrats would not stand for this outrage, and today I am happy to say that the list is growing. Linked here is a letter sent by the chairmen of Democrats for Education Reform and the Black Alliance for Educational Options to Secretary Arne Duncan. As you’ll see, Kevin Chavous and Howard Fuller also address the subject of hypocrisy:

The one thing we know about both of you is that neither of you are hypocrites. But, by being unwilling to take a strong stand for these children and their families you are allowing yourselves to be placed in that category. It pains us to see you and the President being attacked this way. But, to be truthful it pains us more to see these children being denied the educational opportunity that the Opportunity Scholarship Program affords them.

If it has feathers, walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, chances are it’s a duck.

It’s still not too late for Obama and Duncan to redeem themselves. If however they choose to repeat the shameful practice of busing for other people’s children with choice for me but not for thee I believe they will find a growing number of Democrats actively opposing them on behalf of these children.

(edited for typos)

We Regret to Inform You That Democrats Move with Robotic Like Precision According to the Commands of the Teacher Unions

April 13, 2009

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

Mike Petrilli over at Flypaper has a copy of the letter sent to DC parents informing them in an obscure way that they’ve yanked a scholarship away from their child.

This completely insincere letter begins:

Dear Families

We deeply regret the confusion over whether your child would receive a scholarship through the DC Opportunity Scholarship Program. Please know and understand that we deeply sympathize with the uncertainty that you and your family may have faced over the past few months, and we are committed to doing everything possible to ensure that your child is in a safe school environment that offers strengthened academic programs.

So let’s review: the Department decides, completely arbitrarily, to not allow any additional children into the DC program. Next, they have the sickening gall to express “regret” and go through the motions of claiming to be “committed to doing everything possible to ensure your child is in a safe school environment with strengthened academic programs.”

Do these people have any shame at all? Any?

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