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  • Writer's pictureJoanne Jacobs

If charters work, do vouchers fail?

Washington, D.C. students who win the voucher lottery earn lower math scores than lottery losers, especially in elementary school, concludes a U.S. Department of Education study. There was no significant difference in reading scores.

“Parents overwhelmingly support this program,” said Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, a big fan of school choice in all its forms.

Actually, the study didn’t find that, except in one area. Parents believe private schools are safer.

“Previous research on the original D.C. voucher program showed much more positive results: higher high school graduation, parental satisfaction, and reading test scores,” writes Matt Barnum on The 74.

 Apparent improvement in D.C. public and charter schools may help explain the disparate results. Roughly 48 percent of the students in the comparison group — those who applied for the scholarship but did not get one — attend D.C. district public schools, 42 percent attend D.C. charter schools, and 10 percent ended up at a private school outside the scholarship program.

 Recently, studies in Louisiana, Ohio, and Indianapolis show lower achievement for voucher students. “Voucher advocates have offered a number of explanations for these results, including program regulations, the type of standardized test used, and newness of the voucher initiative,” writes Barnum.

Charters not vouchers, are educating disadvantaged children, writes New York Times columnist David Leonhardt, who also cites the recent research. Vouchers rely on parents’ ability to pick good schools, he writes. Charter schools typically “are subject to rigorous evaluation and oversight.”

As a result, many charters have flourished, especially in places where traditional schools have struggled. This evidence comes from top academic researchers, studying a variety of places, including Washington, Boston, Denver, New Orleans, New York, Florida and Texas. . . . the schools’ benefits extend beyond test scores to more meaningful metrics, like college graduation.

In Washington, D.C.,  “voucher results look weak . . . partly because the city’s charters are so strong,” Leonhardt concludes. “That is, voucher recipients are being compared with children at higher-performing public schools than in the past, and the voucher schools aren’t keeping up.”

I wonder if charters-not-vouchers will become the new conventional wisdom.

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