D.C. vouchers boost reading

Washington, D.C.’s voucher program, recently defunded by Democrats, boosts the reading scores of students who get vouchers, concludes the third year of a follow-up study. Voucher students do as well in math as the control group.

 The average tuition at voucher schools is $6,620, writes Cato’s Andrew Coulson.

That is ONE QUARTER what the District of Columbia spends per pupil on education ($26,555), according to the District’s own fiscal year 2009 budget.

President Obama says he supports whatever works. Will he persuade congressional Democrats to fund a program that produces better readers at one fourth the cost?

Update:  What did Education Secretary Arne Duncan know about the study’s findings and when did he know it? Duncan had to know during the voucher reauthorization debate that D.C.’s program is advancing students by nearly half a year, editorializes the Wall Street Journal. Why didn’t he speak up?

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  1. Charles R. Williams says:

    Q: Will he persuade congressional Democrats to fund a program that produces better readers at one fourth the cost?

    A: No. He will throw these kids under the bus. They are expendable. He will rationalize this to himself and to others as politically necessary to enable the entire system to be fixed for all children. He is an elitist through and through with no confidence that parents below his income level can be trusted to make sound decisions about their children’s schooling. He will also do what he can to dry up private sources of funding for private education.

  2. The Washington Post says this:


    “…after three years, students offered scholarships earned reading scores equivalent to 3.1 months of additional learning.”

    That is something. But it’s not a whole lot, actually.

  3. Stuart Buck says:

    It may not be a whole lot, but it’s at least twice the effect found in one of the best studies of desegregation (Thomas Cook).

  4. Welfare-economic cost-benefit considerations would recommend voucher policies even if students at cheaper voucher-accepting schools performed at the same level of performance as students in the NEA/AFT/AFSCME cartel’s schools (the “public” schools). At least on the assumption that vouchers did not somehow lower overall system performance.

    Students in voucher-accepting schools might do better and still vouchers might be bad policy if, for the same overall budget, overall system performace declined. This could happen even in random-assignment (voucher lottery) studies, if the people who apply for the lottery are systematically different from the general population and exert a positive “peer effect” on the students around them. Conversly, students in voucher-accepting schools might do worse than students in the NEA/AFT/AFSCME cartel’s schools and vouchers might still be good policy, if voucher applicants are systematically different from the general population and exert a negative “peer effect” (e.g., disrupt classes, or discourage academic aspirations).

    In abstract, the education industry is an unlikely candidate for State (government, generally) operation. Beyond a very low level, there are no economies of scale at the delivery end of the education business as it currently operations. The education industry is not a natural monopoly. Educaton only marginally qualifies as a public good as economists use the term, and the “public goods” argument implies subsidy and regulation, at most, not State operation of an industry. “What works?” is an empirical question which only an experiment (a competitive market in education services, or numerous small independent school districts with open enrollment) can answer. answer. The US State-monopoly school system is like an experiment with one treatment and no controls, a retarded experimental design.

  5. But as a political construct the public education system was nothing short of brilliant.

    Look at who was harnessed to its cause: anti-Catholic bigots, industrialists, anti-child labor crusaders, labor unions, proto-socialists and probably one or two other interest groups who I’ve forgotten about.

    Finding common cause among such disparate groups points out a direction for those opposed to public education orthodoxy: coalition-building. If we’re ever to bring an end to the vast waste and tragedy of the public education system we’ll have to find some way to weld together seemingly disparate groups.

    One obvious place to start is with the money.

    Public education, due to its political clout, sucks up an obscenely large amount of many state’s budgets. That makes every group that seeks to supp at the state trough a potential ally and those groups have pretty wide-ranging interests.

    Municipal governments, municipal employee unions, environmentalists, the trucking industry all stick their snouts into the state treasury trough and all have to wait their turn while the education system takes its fill. Could the prospect of additional funding going to their pet projects enlist them in a campaign to reform education? No less so I think then the prospect of mandatory attendance enlisted the support of labor unions in the formation of the current form of public education.

  6. And Democrats like to flatter themselves that it’s Republicans who hate science!

  7. (Steve): “And Democrats like to flatter themselves that it’s Republicans who hate science!”

    Biblical literalists and socialists proclaim Inteligent Design. It’s the free marketeers (i.e., voucher advocates) who understand evolution.