Mike opened the door for my response to the Washington Opportunity Scholarship Program external evaluation, and I've just completed a fairly quick read of it. First, in the spirit of full disclosure, I'll note that my former employer, Westat, was the prime contractor for the evaluation. Though I never personally worked with the Westat staff who conducted the evaluation, I do know their reputations for quality work. This is not the only reason, of course, that I found the evaluation to be of high-quality, but it's worth mentioning. Disclosure aside, I have a couple takeaways from the evaluation.

First, the impact findings for the program are simply not that compelling (sorry Mike), and even the subgroup analyses--which do provide a ray of hope--are presented with important caveats. The design comprised a randomized controlled trial where eligible applicants were randomly assigned to receive or not receive the scholarship. By all accounts, the sample was drawn appropriately and is of sufficient size (n=2,308 which is, we're told, larger than impact samples in previous, similar evaluations); furthermore, the analyses appear thoughtfully and meticulously conducted.

So, while I have few qualms with the evaluation design itself, I do think something that occurred naturally within the impact sample--namely, lots of student mobility--is worth keeping in mind. Over the course of two years in the treatment group, only 4 percent remained in the same school they were in when they applied to the program; 71 percent switched schools once, and 25 percent...

So much has been written, said and televised regarding the late Timothy J. Russert that I can constructively add only this small bit to everyone's memories and biographies of this great guy.

Soon after Pat Moynihan (narrowly) won his first Senate rate in 1976, Tim, then abut 26 years old, joined his staff, initially as head of the Senator's tiny Buffalo office. I signed on around the same time for the D.C.-based legislative team, along with one of the strongest casts of colleagues it's ever been my privilege to work with. (Some of this is recounted on pages 66-7 of Troublemaker.) At the start, Tim was just this kid from Buffalo who turned up in Washington now and again. But it didn't take long before his remarkable political savvy, his matchless knowledge of New York State,??his phenomenal nose for news and unparalleled??capacity for "working the media" became clear to one and all, not least to Moynihan himself. In short order, Tim was in D.C. as the Senator's new press secretary and then, by the time I left (1981), had graduated to the top post of administrative assistant in what was, by then, a veritable staff empire. He was as adept at managing a bunch of headstrong colleagues and navigating the tricky political shoals of the U.S. Senate (and then preparing Pat for a triumphant re-election campaign in 1982) as he later proved to be??for Governor Cuomo and then NBC. Though Tim left his former Senate staff colleagues in...

That's what the headlines should say about this recently released study on Washington's federally-funded school scholarship program, though they probably won't. That's because, as the Institute for Educational Sciences (IES) summary states, the study "found no significant differences in student achievement between those who were offered scholarships to attend a participating private school and those who were eligible for, but were not offered (as assigned by a lottery) a scholarship." But wait, there's good news:

However, being offered a scholarship may have improved reading test scores among three subgroups of relatively more advantaged students: those who had not attended a School in Need of Improvement (SINI) school when they applied to the program, those who had relatively higher pre-program academic performance, and those who applied in the first year of program implementation.

Here's what you need to know that the media (not to mention anti-voucher groups) will neglect to tell you: in tiny programs such as D.C.'s, it's really hard to find "effects" because the sample size is so limited. Participants have to do dramatically better than the control group in order for researchers to detect a statistically significant difference. So the fact that impacts were found for three subgroups (whose members make up 88 percent of the program's participants, according to the Department of Education's press release*) is pretty darn impressive.

But hey, Fordham now has its own fully-credentialed Research Director, so I'll let Amber take it from here.


I've returned from a long weekend in New Hampshire to find my colleague Coby continuously questioning the concern that America's economic might will be damaged by her educational mediocrity. To be sure, I think these arguments can be overblown and politically unsustainable. Still, there is some pretty compelling evidence about the connection between a nation's educational achievement and economic growth. Take a look at this figure, for example, from a recent Education Next article by Eric Hanushek, Dean T. Jamison, Eliot A. Jamison and Ludger Woessmann. Coby, shouldn't we get a little nervous about the United States' lackluster performance?

Liam Julian

Nigeria's teachers' union threatens to unleash the "mother of all strikes."

(Gadfly has previously commented, in op-art form,??on Nigeria's trials.)

While Washington, D.C., works it way through a big debate about turning its inner-city Catholic schools into charters, a Catholic high school in Houston quietly made the conversion this month with very little fanfare. Three cheers for Houston's school board for saving this valuable community institution. It was a particularly gutsy move considering that a majority of all Americans and almost two-thirds of all Catholic Americans oppose turning Catholic schools into charters (as reported by our recent Catholic schools study).

Liam Julian

Fordham has previously come out in favor of religious charter schools. Here's Checker in 2003, here's Mike in 2007. And here's the Tarek ibn Ziyad Academy in 2008 ; the Wall Street Journal 's op-ed, which describes an Islamic school funded with taxpayer dollars,??is disquieting. We've previously covered in Gadfly Tarek ibn Ziyad Academy, but we've done so, in my mind, in an unsatisfactory manner. (See our first mention here and our next mention, the following week, from Checker, here .)

To allow religious charter schools would set into action a wholly unsavory series of events, and we'd be confronted with all sorts of questions that don't have easy answers, such as, what is a religion? and what are acceptable religious beliefs? And after reducing our stock of questions, we'll eventually be left with these bits: Either we allow any and all religions to set up schools to teach any and all of their proclaimed beliefs, or we allow none. The latter seems healthier, so why not save ourselves all the trouble and put the kibosh on talk about religious charter schools?

Update: Via Eduwonk: Looks like the question phase has begun .

Photo by Flickr user corydalus ....

Liam Julian

Education poobahs from everywhere will??go this week to??Orlando for a k-12 summit hosted by former Florida Governor Jeb Bush and friends. In yesterday's Orlando Sentinel, I wrote about the need for summit participants (and legislators and bureaucrats generally) to forget the hype and avoid focusing overmuch on dropout rates--that is, on the numbers themselves, which are essentially meaningless because states can render receipt of a diploma as difficult or facile as they wish. Lots of states have already succumbed to "lower the dropout rate" pressure by defanging their exit exams.

Two readers thought my piece worth commenting on on the Sentinel's online site, and both had the same gripe: that my??article didn't even mention student accountability. This is a complaint that I frequently stumble upon, especially in comments sections where readers post opinions about the op-eds they've just ingested. In this??particular ed-related observation??(anong sundry others),??the thinking public is far ahead of 1) the education thinktankerati and 2) government officials. One surmises that not a few thoughtful individuals have surmised that not a few high school students are screw-ups who don't want to be in school, don't want to learn, and don't want to behave. Many of them will probably drop out, and many people seem to think that's generally okay because at some point in time a 17-year-old has to take some responsibility for his own education and life. (Al Shanker, longtime AFT president,??believed in student accountability, too.)

To utter such thoughts today is generally??not acceptable in...

Last week the Wall Street Journal editors defended D.C.'s voucher program after the Washington Post reported that its days could be numbered. They made the decent point that "The $7,500 voucher is a bargain for taxpayers because it costs the public schools about 50% more, or $13,000 a year, to educate a child in the public schools." It would have been an excellent point, though, had they known and let it be known that in reality the district spends closer to $24,000 per pupil.

Mike thinks I'm overzealous in questioning the zeal with which ed reformers tie America's sub-par schools to forecasts of economic doom. There is, he argues, compelling evidence that economic growth is influenced by educational achievement, an arena where the United States typically trails lots of other countries. For instance, a recent Education Next article and an accompanying graph suggest that "cognitive skills," as measured by norm-referenced test scores, correlate positively with economic growth; the authors claim that "a highly skilled work force can raise economic growth by about two-thirds of a percentage point every year."

They also acknowledge, however, that the United States "has had a higher growth rate [from 1960 to 2000] than would be expected given its test scores and levels of school attainment." We can thank a number of factors for this lucky bit of American exceptionalism:

...the United States has other advantages, some of which are entirely separate and apart from the quality of its schooling. The U.S. maintains generally freer labor and product markets than most countries in the world. There is less government regulation of firms, and trade unions are less powerful than in many other countries. Put more broadly, the U.S. has generally less intrusion of government in the operation of the economy, including lower tax rates and minimal government production through nationalized industries. Taken together, these characteristics of the U.S. economy encourage investment, permit the rapid development of new products and activities by firms, and allow U.S. workers