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New Studies of Federal Vouchers Can't Use 'Gold Standard' Research

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New studies of private school-vouchers in the District of Columbia—the nation's only federally funded voucher program—will be prohibited from using the most rigorous scientific research method to evaluate the effectiveness of the program.

That prohibition comes as part of bipartisan budget deal struck this week in Congress to keep the federal government running through September, but as my colleague Sarah Sparks reports, the move to change the research rules for the highly divisive voucher program has been in the works for more than a year.

The ban also comes in the wake of a new evaluation of the 13-year-old voucher program— known as D.C. Opportunity Scholarships—that found that students who used the vouchers posted weaker academic results than those who had applied for vouchers but did not receive them. That study was done using a research method that compared the performance of students who received a voucher through the District of Columbia's lottery system to that of their peers who applied for a voucher but did not receive one.

Democrats and other critics who want to halt the D.C. vouchers pounced on those results to argue for ending the program.

Congress' budget deal does allow for the Institute for Education Sciences to continue with its more-rigorous method of comparison for studies that are already underway. The ongoing studies would be directed to look at longer-term outcomes such as high school graduation and college enrollment, areas in which prior studies have shown positive results.

For a full explanation of what this change could mean for research on private-school vouchers and other education programs, read Sarah Sparks' take over at Inside School Research


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