New DC Vouchers Research

The first two years of research evaluating the DC school voucher program had shown substantial success in making parents feel more satisfied with their kids’ schools, but no real evidence of better performance. The third year evaluation looks better, which makes congressional Democrats’ apparent determination to kill the program off all the more unfortunate. Still, while this result makes anyone who wants to eliminate the program look bad, it also gives very little reason to think that continuing the program would result in acceptable outcomes for DC kids:

— After 3 years, there was a statistically significant positive impact on reading test scores, but not math test scores.

— The OSP improved reading achievement for 5 of the 10 subgroups examined.

That’s not nothing, so I’d be all for moving forward with it. But given that the baseline is what’s probably the worst-performing big city public school system in the country the results are actually kind of meager. DC needs its kids to be doing much better than this. Meanwhile, the program was dying off of natural causes anyway since many of the voucher schools were closing and reorganizing themselves as charter schools. The charter sector now accounts for a very large proportion of DC’s shrinking student population and the best-performing charters seem to be doing substantially better than either DCPS or the parochial schools. The real issue in my view is to keep pushing to see how far the best charter models can be expanded so that they can serve more and more kids. People have raised a lot of questions about KIPP’s scalability, for example, that we’ll only be able to answer by continuing to scale it up.