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D.C. Voucher Students Begin to Nudge Ahead


The blogs were buzzing over the weekend with the latest findings from the federal evaluation of the District of Columbia's Opportunity Scholarship Program. You can catch some of the chatter here and here. Also, see the full story on EdWeek's homepage today.

Begun in 2004, the program attracts notice because it's the first federally funded school voucher program in the United States and it's up for renewal. In the first two years of the study, though, the federally funded researchers found the voucher students were not doing any better academically than those who had applied for—but failed to nab—one of the "golden tickets" in the voucher lottery.

Not so this year. According to the third-year findings released Friday by the U.S. Department of Education's Institute of Education Sciences, voucher students were scoring more than three months ahead of their voucher-less peers in reading. There were still no differences between the two groups, though, in terms of math achievement. The program also had no impact on the group of students for whom it was intended:students transferring from schools deemed to be in need of improvement.

What's missing from all the media coverage, though, is the fact that this study is another one of the randomized controlled studies that the IES has been rolling out in recent years. If you've read my story on this spate of research, you'll know that most of those studies are finding few, if any, program effects. So the fact that the D.C. program is beginning to yield positive academic results may be especially noteworthy.

On the other hand, the third-year evaluation also shows that the voucher recipients were doing only slightly better in reading than the much smaller group of students who received a voucher, but decided not to use it. Go figure.


I always wonder why some things correlate and others don't. I wonder if it is possible that students who are scoring higher are scoring higher because they come from families where education receives greater attention. These families would also be more likely to use vouchers.

The U.S. Dept. of Ed's Institute of Ed. Sciences seems very hard pressed favoring of vouchers, reporting reading gains in chunks of three months and in the third year of existence. Being up for renewal has nothing to do with it, I'm sure.

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