New DC Voucher Bill Introduced

July 30, 2009

According to an Alliance for School Choice press release:

Senator Joseph I. Lieberman (I-Conn.) today unveiled a bipartisan reauthorization bill for the D.C. school voucher program.  Lieberman, along with Susan Collins (R-ME) and four other senators, introduced legislation this morning to reauthorize and strengthen the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program (OSP) for five years…

 Under Senator Lieberman’s bill, the program would be preserved and strengthened significantly. The Lieberman bill would increase scholarship amounts to $9,000 for K-8 students and $11,000 for high school students­indexing the scholarship amounts to inflation. While these amounts remain significantly below the amounts for the D.C. Public Schools, they provide the necessary increases to account for inflation over the past five years.

The bill would also:

–Give scholarship priority to siblings of students who currently participate in the program
–Require participating schools to have a valid certificate of occupancy
–Require teachers of core subject matters to have bachelor’s degrees
–Require an Institute of Education Sciences annual evaluation of the program
–Require students to take nationally norm-referenced tests

I hear that this bill addresses all of the issues raised by Senator Durbin’s bill without any of the program-killing provisions.  If Durbin is really motivated by the concerns he has expressed, such as teachers having bachelors degrees and schools reporting test results, we may be getting close to a compromise.  Of course, that is a big IF.

Moe and Peterson on DC Vouchers

March 19, 2009

PJM on Merit Pay in D.C.

September 8, 2008

(Guest post by Greg Forster)

Today, Pajamas Media carries my column on Michelle Rhee’s push for a limited, voluntary merit pay system in Washington D.C.:

To see how much has changed, just consider the amazing fact that about one out of every three public-school students in D.C. attends a charter school — government-owned but non-unionized, privately operated, and (most important of all) chosen by parents — instead of a regular public school. “We lost 6,000 students last year,” says Parker, referring to the number of students who moved from regular schools to charters. Six thousand students is over 13% of the city’s remaining enrollment in regular public schools — in one year.

Rhee isn’t the force behind charter schools or vouchers in D.C. She’s in charge of the regular public system. But the same widespread mandate for reform that made charters and vouchers successful have allowed Rhee to succeed with reforms like closing schools that were only there to create patronage jobs, introducing curriculum innovation, and taking on the unbelievable amount of bureaucratic waste in the system. And as vouchers and charters have sent a message that the system can’t take students for granted any more, the pressure for reform has only increased — strengthening Rhee’s hand.

By coincidence, the Washington Post‘s Marc Fisher has a column today emphasizing how the explosion of charter schools in D.C. was decisive in bringing the unions to the bargaining table, even on the issue of reforming the structure of teacher pay. Just as competition from globalization forced the private sector unions to start the long, slow process of giving up the ridiculous extravegances that they won from management in the 1960s and 1970s, thus rescuing the American economy from disaster, now competition in schooling is forcing the teachers’ unions to start the same process of giving up their own ridiculous extravegances – the biggest of all being a system of hiring, firing and pay that bears no serious relationship to job performance.

Congressional Subcommittee Hearing on D.C. School Choice Funding

June 17, 2008

(Guest post by Dan Lips)

Today, the House Financial Services and General Government Appropriations Subcommittee will hold a mark-up of the federal government’s budget for the District of Columbia. The panel must decide whether to include President Bush’s proposed funding for continuing the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship program.

As Greg mentioned yesterday, the Department of Education released its second year evaluation of the scholarship program.  Here’s the Department’s basic summary of what the report found:

Reading achievement improved for three large subgroups of students, comprising 88 percent of participating students. In fact, their gains put them about two to four months ahead of their peers who did not receive a scholarship. While the report found no statistically significant difference in test scores overall between students who were offered a scholarship and students who were not offered a scholarship, achievement trends are moving in the right direction. The positive effects found in this year’s report are larger than those in last year’s report, and whenever statistically significant effects were found, they favored students who were offered scholarships.

The report also found that scholarship parents were more satisfied with their children’s schools and they believed their children’s schools to be safer than their previous public school.   So, test scores for participating kids are tilting higher, and families report being happier when they have a choice.   


Of course, these generally positive results won’t be enough to convince some in Congress to support continuing the program.  What strikes me as really odd about this debate is that this program is being held to such a high-bar for proving its effectiveness.  If only Congress were this critical of all government programs.  Every year, the Bush administration tries to terminate as many as 47 federal education programs that have been judged by the federal government to: “have achieved their original purpose, duplicate other programs, are narrowly focused, or unable to demonstrate effectiveness.”  But these programs somehow find a way to live on, supporting Ronald Reagan’s quip: “the closest thing to eternal life on this earth is a government program.” 


For D.C. families, it’s clear that the Opportunity Scholarship program is one worth keeping.  Parent activist Virginia Walden Ford penned a good column for National Review Online on the real impact school choice is having for D.C. families.  For more commentary on D.C. school choice, check out William McGurn’s column for the Wall Street Journal or pieces by Kathryn Lopez and Carrie Lukas for NRO. You can also check out a column I wrote for Heritage


Stay tuned.  I’ll report back when we learn what happens in the House subcommittee mark-up. 

The DC Voucher Evaluation

June 16, 2008

(Guest post by Greg Forster)

Today the U.S. Dept. of Education released the fourth annual report on the random-assignment evaluation of the DC voucher program, including academic results for the first two years of the program’s existence. As with last year’s report, across the whole population the voucher students had higher academic outcomes than the control group, but the positive results just barely fell short of the conventional cutoff for statistical certainty. This means that while the voucher students in fact had higher test scores, we cannot be 95 percent confident that their higher scores are due to vouchers and not a statistical fluke. This year it was the reading results that came close to statistical significance, reaching 91 percent certainty. The study also finds statistically certain positive results for three subgroups, which together comprise 88 percent of the voucher population.

Since the previous year’s results were also not statistically significant, this update of the study doesn’t change the balance of the studies on school choice. As before, there are a total of ten random-assignment studies on school vouchers, all ten of which found that the voucher students had higher academic achievement, with eight studies achieving statistical certainty for the positive finding and two not.

In other words, school vouchers are still better supported by high-quality scientific evidence than any other education policy. If you reject vouchers because this study is only 91 percent sure they produce academic improvements, you have no empirical grounds for supporting any other policy, since all other policies are far less well supported by empirical evidence than vouchers.

In a few minutes you’ll be able to see the Friedman Foundation’s response to the DC study, including details and citations on all ten random-assignment studies of vouchers, here.

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