Monday, August 31, 2009

Ensuring Johnny Still Can't Read

As I reported last month, the Obama Administration and Hill Democrats have killed the District of Columbia school voucher program. The sole Federally-funded voucher plan, it gave up to $7,500 annually to about 1,700 students from especially low-income families. This ticket out of failed DC schools could be used in local (DC, Maryland or Virginia) private schools. The program worked, was cheaper than public school spending, endorsed by the local government and hugely popular with parents and students. In short, everyone approved except the teachers' unions--but, in the end, only their vote counted.

University of Arkansas education prof Dr. Patrick Wolf was the principal investigator Federally-mandated evaluation of the program, and he says "the D.C. voucher program has proven to be the most effective education policy evaluated by the federal government’s official education research arm so far," on EducationNext:
The data indicate that members of the treatment group who were attending private schools in the third year of the evaluation gained an average of 7.1 scale score points in reading from the program.

What do these gains mean for students? They mean that the students in the control group would need to remain in school an extra 3.7 months on average to catch up to the level of reading achievement attained by those who used the scholarship opportunity to attend a private school for any period of time. The catch-up time would have been around 5 months for those in the control group as compared to those who were attending a private school in the third year of the evaluation.

Over time, in my opinion, the effects of the program show a trend toward larger reading gains cumulating for students. Especially when one considers that students who used their scholarship in year 1 needed to adjust to a new and different school environment, the reading impacts of using a scholarship of 1.4 scale score points (not significant) in year 1, 4.0 scale score points (not significant) in year 2, and 5.3 scale score points (significant) in year 3 suggest that students are steadily gaining in reading performance relative to their peers in the control group the longer they make use of the scholarship.
Refuting some progressive critiques, Wolf also finds "no scientific basis for claims that some subgroups of students benefited more in reading from the voucher program than other subgroups."

Might things change? It's worth noting that even the liberal Washington Post asked "the president to rethink his administration's wrong-headed decision to shut down the voucher program to new students" in Friday's editorial:
[V]ouchers aren't the answer to Washington's school troubles; we enthusiastically support public school reform and quality charter schools, too. But vouchers are an answer for some children whose options otherwise are bleak. In Washington, they also are part of a carefully designed social-science experiment that may provide useful evidence for all schools on helping low-income children learn.
The Post concludes by asking "Why would a Democratic administration and Congress want to cut such an experiment short?" Simple: "flexing for the unions" is near the top of President's priorities. Regardless of kids, parents or the budget. Despite Obama's fake fidelity to science, campaign politics perpetually trump the public interest.

(via The Corner)


Assistant Village Idiot said...

The government union people emote better before the cameras, so everyone can keep up the pretense that they care more. This has similarity to Shelby Steele's recent essay, about how important it is to the African-American community to look like you care, even if you aren't really helping.

Superior schooling will not trump superior hypocrisy.

Carl said...

Could Steele's point describe the entire Obama Administration?