In a recent study by the University of Arkansas, researchers have found that students who used vouchers to attend private schools in Washington D.C. were more likely to graduate than students who did not participate in the program.
For those that do not know, the DC Opportunity Scholarship Program (vouchers), consists of the following elements:
- To be eligible, students entering grades K–12 must reside in the District and have a family income at or below 185 percent of the federal poverty line.
- Participating students will receive scholarships of up to $7,500 to cover the costs of tuition, school fees, and transportation to a participating private school of choice.
- Scholarships are renewable for up to 5 years (as funds are appropriated), as long as students remain eligible for the program and remain in good academic standing at the private schools they are attending.
- If there are more eligible applicants than available scholarships or open slots in private schools, applicants are to be awarded scholarships and admission to private schools random selection, for example by lottery.
- Private schools participating in the program must be located in the District, and agree to program requirements regarding nondiscrimination in admissions, fiscal accountability, and cooperation with the evaluation.
The program essentially gives parents a $7,500 voucher to go towards tuition, books, transportation, and other school related expenses and the parents to choose which school their child attends. Since the biggest concern parents have about enrolling their child in a private school is affordability, the voucher program eliminates the problem.
Vouchers have caused quite a bit of debate among education experts, politicians, and parents. Liberals tend to strongly dislike the program because they feel it’s abandoning the public school system and giving a select group of students an alternative that isn’t available to all students. But conservatives feel that it introduces choice and competition to the public school system. They feel that eliminating the public school monopoly on low income families will force public schools to compete for students and their money, instead of being the only choice for many. The voucher program allows parents to enroll their children in better schools, usually with better learning environments, and as proven with this study, better graduation rates.
The results of the study aren’t surprising to proponents of the voucher program, in fact, most would say they were expected. According to the EducationNews.org:
that the offer to participate in the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program raised a student’s probability of completing high school by 12 percentage points, from 70 percent to 82 percent, based on parent reports. Some students declined to use their scholarships. Adjusting the data to account for scholarship decliners reveals that actually using a scholarship to attend a private school increased graduation rates by 21 percentage points.
Congress, which approved the K-12 voucher program in 2004, mandated a rigorous evaluation funded by the U.S. Department of Education. The final report, issued June 22 by the federal Institute of Education Sciences, represents the sixth annual report on the program.
The research team used random assignment, commonly viewed as the “gold standard” for program evaluation, to divide 2,308 eligible applicants into a treatment group of 1,387 students who were offered Opportunity Scholarships and a control group of 921 who requested scholarships but did not receive them. They then tracked the two groups over five years for the 2004 cohort and four years for the 2005 cohort of study participants.
The report focuses specifically on outcomes that Congress directed the researchers to evaluate including high school graduation, student achievement and parents’ and students’ ratings of school safety and satisfaction. Parents rated their child’s schools safer and were more satisfied with them if offered a scholarship, while the program had no impact on student reports of school safety and satisfaction.
Although the study used rigorous methods and the results on graduation rates were conclusive, Wolf cautioned that the study had certain limitations: “The findings in this report are a reflection of the particular program elements that evolved from the law passed by Congress and the characteristics of the students, families and schools, both public and private, that exist in the nation’s capital. The same program implemented in another city might yield different results and a different scholarship program administered in Washington, D.C., might also produce different outcomes.”
I would love to see this program used in other major cities around the country to get a larger sampling. The results of the study are encouraging though. I believe that program could bring about a much needed change to our education system. Empowering parents and students to play an active role in their education will open up the system, resulting in the government being forced to take a step back. Giving families a choice provides children with a fighting chance to succeed instead of being forced into a failing school district.
Our education system is in shambles. It’s shameful that the most powerful country in the world can’t seem to figure out a way to make education work. It’s apparent that throwing trillions of dollars at failing districts isn’t making them any better, it’s simply making them more expensive to run. Teachers unions have virtually no power in the private system and the administrators of those schools know that if they don’t perform, parents will take their children and their money to another school. This is exactly the competition teachers and districts need to not only survive but to thrive.
You can see the struggles public schools are facing when they’re pushing the 4 day school week to cut expenses. They’re invoking desperate measures to stay above water, yet they’re begging for more money? Parents aren’t happy with the system, but for many families, they don’t have any other option. They put up with the system because it’s the only system they have. It’s similar to what’s happening with the USPS and FedEx and UPS. The USPS is
going bankrupt because there are better options out there. The only reason the USPS still exists? Because it’s a government entity and the government can keep throwing money at it as long as it wants. The government provides an unlimited source of funds, while the private sector needs to rely on producing good products, good financial management or risk failing.
And to think, the government is anti-monopoly. Hmmmm….