D.C. vouchers raise graduation rate

Washington, D.C.’s voucher program raised graduation rates significantly, writes Matthew Ladner on Jay P. Greene’s Blog. The final evaluation report found an 82 percent graduation rate for students who won the voucher lottery, compared to 70 percent for lottery losers. Students who used their vouchers to attend private schools — some lottery winners don’t — had graduation rates 21 percent higher.  Benefits were similar for students from Schools in Need of Improvement.

Although last year’s report found higher reading achievement for lottery winners, this year students’ progress fell short of statistical significance. That’s because the sample size was smaller because students had “graded out,” Ladner writes. His analysis shows it’s very likely the voucher students outperformed the control group in reading.

In sum, the five-year evaluation of the DC voucher program has shown that low-income students who received scholarships have higher graduation rates, higher student achievement, increased parental views of safety, and increased parent satisfaction. There was not one single negative finding over the entire course of the evaluation. I’d say that’s quite a success for a program that spent a fraction of the per-pupil amount spent in DC public schools.

Congress voted to kill the program for low-income students last year.

Update:  The choice benefit is larger, writes Greg Forster. The graduation rate is only 49 percent in district-run schools. How did the control group hit 70 percent? Some 35 percent of lottery losers went to charter schools and 12 percent enrolled in private schools without a voucher.

Reauthorize vouchers, editorializes in the Washington Post.

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  1. Of course, the Dept of Education web summary downplays the results as much as possible. Even worse is this statement:

    “The evaluation also found that the cumulative loss of students between 2004 and 2009 from DC Public Schools (DCPS) to the Program was about 3 percent. In contrast, an estimated 20 percent of students annually change schools or leave DCPS. Thus, OSP-related transfers to private schools may not have been distinguishable from the larger share of other student departures.”

    In other words, a voucher worth up to $7,000 didn’t help anyone transfer who otherwise couldn’t have afforded it. They arrive at this astounding conclusion by comparing the number of people using a voucher to leave the district, on the one hand, to a total that includes those transferring between district schools or moving away.


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  2. […] study of Washington D.C.’s voucher program for low-income students found a much larger rise in graduation rates: Lottery winners who […]