Mixed results for D.C. voucher students

District of Columbia students who receive federally funded scholarships to attend private schools are making gains in reading, reports a federal study of the program’s first 19 months. Some 88 percent of voucher recipients are two to four months ahead in reading, compared to public-school students who were turned down for a scholarship. However, that hasn’t translated into test scores: Voucher students earned similar test scores to the control group.

Is the glass half full? Half empty? Is there a glass? On Flypaper, Amber Winkler observes that rigorous studies tend to find very modest effects.

The scholarship program will expire next year, unless Congress authorizes more funds. Eleanor Holmes Norton, D.C.’s delegate to Congress, wants to defund the program, replacing it with charter schools, other public-school alternatives or with privately funded scholarships.

Don’t kill the program, editorializes the Washington Post, which points to very high parent satisfaction and the hope that reading gains will pay off over time.

Lost in the rhetoric about the politics of the program is the simple fact that, if not for these vouchers, 86 percent of these 1,900 children would be attending failing D.C. schools.

In an ABC News interview with Jake Tapper, Barack Obama is pro-charter and anti-voucher.

TAPPER: But one of the ways that proponents of school choice say that the best way to change the status quo is to give parents, inner-city parents a choice. Why not?

OBAMA: Well, the problem is, is that, you know, although it might benefit some kids at the top, what you’re going to do is leave a lot of kids at the bottom. We don’t have enough slots for every child to go into a parochial school or a private school. And what you would see is a huge drain of resources out of the public schools.

So what I’ve said is let’s foster competition within the public school system. Let’s make sure that charter schools are up and running. Let’s make sure that kids who are in failing schools, in local school districts, have an option to go to schools that are doing well.

But what I don’t want to do is to see a diminished commitment to the public schools to the point where all we have are the hardest-to-teach kids with the least involved parents with the most disabilities in the public schools. That’s going to make things worse, and we’re going to lose the commitment to public schools that I think have been so important to building this country.

Choice opponents always assume that the best parents will be the first to pull their kids out of public schools. So do choice proponents. See, we’ve all come together on something.

Obama’s children go to private school, writes William McGurn in the Wall St. Journal.

Update: A House committee has voted to give the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship program one more year of funding.

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  1. Mrs. Davis says:

    How great is Barack’s commitment to public schools? Does he send his children to the local Chicago City school or the exclusive, elitist Laboratory School of the University of Chicago?

  2. Cardinal Fang says:

    If Obama were saying, “Public schools are great and need no changes,” then he would be a hypocrite to send his children to private school. But he is not saying anything of the kind. Instead, he is saying public schools have problems and we should make changes.

    You might not agree with his proposed changes. You might not think that they would, in fact, make public schools better. You might think that different changes– vouchers, for example– would be better. But that doesn’t make Obama a hypocrite, and ad hominem arguments like these don’t advance the discourse.

  3. Of course he’s a hypocrite. He wouldn’t send his kids to unaccountable schools but that’s exactly what he’s comfortable with for people who can’t afford to purchase accountability.

  4. Charles R. Williams says:

    Vouchers are a matter of justice not of test scores. It is necessary for the state to subsidize k-12 schooling. It is not necessary for the state to operate the schools on a monopoly basis. Education remains the responsibility of the parents even if the state must assume most of the cost to ensure that schooling is possible for all children.

    Obama is willing to use other people’s children to keep the public schools viable at great cost to these children. He is not willing for his own girls to be used way and he has the cash to prevent it. This is not hypocritical but it is fundamentally unjust. It is unjust because the same taxpayers that are footing the bill for public education are the parents who can’t afford private schools for their children. Public schooling is not a gift of the elites (like the Obamas) to people who would otherwise have no way to educate their children.

  5. Cardinal Fang says:

    “On Flypaper, Amber Winkler observes that rigorous studies tend to find very modest effects.”

    This is remarkably disingenuous. Plenty of rigorous studies find large effects– but only when those effects are there to be found.