"A child's learning is the function more of the characteristics of his classmates than those of the teacher." James Coleman, 1972

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Privatatizers Seek to Breathe Life into Dead DC Voucher Program

With the bloom off the segregated corporate charter schools as the ultimate tool for crushing public education, the privatizers are ginning up the old standby option, school vouchers. Right-wing princess, Betsy Devos, daughter of the Amway fortune and sister of Eric Prince (of Blackwater Christian Crusader fame), has launched a new website, the American Federation for Children (get it?), in an effort to breathe life once more into corporate vouchers in DC (again), a program that would give corporations a dollar tax write-off for every dollar given for a voucher.

A clip from the AFC's latest press release aimed to garner support for Lieberman's amendment to a Senate Bill to reauthorize the FAA (you may ignore the Press Release's claim that Lieberman is offering an amendment to an entirely unrelated House Bill):
The Obama Administration’s own “What Works Clearinghouse” has validated the Institute for Education Sciences (IES) research on the OSP. The evaluation of the program shows that students who were offered vouchers to attend private schools scored higher on reading tests compared to students who were not offered vouchers. These gains were equal to three months of additional learning.
And on cue, too, is the Editorial Board of the Washington Post, printing their own fabrications this morning about the IES study, whose PI was none other than Patrick Wolf, Endowed Chair of School Choice (no, that's not a misprint or a joke) at the education school that Walmart built at the University of Arkansas. Quoting Wolf:
"in my opinion, the bottom line is that the OSP lottery paid off for those students who won it. On average, participating low-income students are performing better in reading because the federal government decided to launch an experimental school choice program in the nation's capital."
Of course, that research at IES occurred during the reign of Bush II, and Betsy, WaPo, and Dr. Wolf all fail to point out, of course, the math results from that study, which show significant achievement losses in math for voucher kids. Just to put to bed the AFC claim, here is the Executive Summary from the IES:

The District of Columbia School Choice Incentive Act of 2003, passed by Congress in January 2004, established the first federally funded, private school voucher program in the United States. As part of this legislation, Congress mandated a rigorous evaluation of the impacts of the Program, now called the DC Opportunity Scholarship Program (OSP). This report presents findings from the evaluation of the impacts 3 years after families who applied were given the option to move from a public school to a participating private school of their choice.

The evaluation is based on a randomized controlled trial design that compares the outcomes of eligible applicants randomly assigned to receive (treatment group) or not receive (control group) a scholarship through a series of lotteries. The main findings of the evaluation so far include:

  • After 3 years, there was a statistically significant positive impact on reading test scores, but not math test scores. Overall, those offered a scholarship were performing at statistically higher levels in reading—equivalent to 3.1 months of additional learning—but at similar levels in math compared to students not offered a scholarship (table 3). Analysis in prior years indicated no significant impacts overall on either reading or math achievement.
  • The OSP had a positive impact overall on parents' reports of school satisfaction and safety (figures 3 and 4), but not on students' reports (figures 3 and 4). Parents were more satisfied with their child's school (as measured by the percentage giving the school a grade of A or B) and viewed their child's school as safer and more orderly if the child was offered a scholarship. Students had a different view of their schools than did their parents. Reports of safety and school climate were comparable for students in the treatment and control groups. Overall, student satisfaction was unaffected by the Program.
  • This same pattern of findings holds when the analysis is conducted to determine the impact of using a scholarship rather than being offered a scholarship. Fourteen percent of students in our impact sample who were randomly assigned by lottery to receive a scholarship and who responded to year 3 data collection chose not to use their scholarship at any point over the 3-year period after applying to the Program.1 We use a common statistical technique to take those "never users" into account; it assumes that the students had zero impact from the OSP, but it does not change the statistical significance of the original impact estimates. Therefore, the positive impacts on reading achievement, parent views of school safety and climate, and parent views of satisfaction all increase in size, and there remains no impact on math achievement and no overall impact on students' perceptions of school safety and climate or satisfaction from using an OSP scholarship.
  • The OSP improved reading achievement for 5 of the 10 subgroups examined.2 Being offered or using a scholarship led to higher reading test scores for participants who applied from schools that were not classified as "schools in need of improvement" (non-SINI). There were also positive impacts for students who applied to the Program with relatively higher levels of academic performance, female students, students entering grades K-8 at the time of application, and students from the first cohort of applicants. These impacts translate into 1/3 to 2 years of additional learning growth. However, the positive subgroup reading impacts for female students and the first cohort of applicants should be interpreted with caution, as reliability tests suggest that they could be false discoveries.
  • No achievement impacts were observed for five other subgroups of students, including those who entered the Program with relative academic disadvantage. Subgroups of students who applied from SINI schools (designated by Congress as the highest priority group for the Program) or were in the lower third of the test score distribution among applicants did not demonstrate significant impacts on reading test scores if they were offered or used a scholarship. In addition, male students, those entering high school grades upon application, and those in application cohort 2 showed no significant impacts in either reading or math after 3 years.

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