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.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."
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.
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)