Evaluation of the DC Opportunity Scholarship Program: Impacts After Three Years

Patrick Wolf, Babette Gutmann, Michael Puma, Brian Kisida, Lou Rizzo, Nada Eissa
Institute of Education Sciences
March 2009

Amid all the sound and fury surrounding the D.C. voucher program,
this study is a significant feather in the cap of the program's
supporters. Why? Because despite the study's rigorous methods (a
gold-standard randomized controlled trial, which usually finds "no effect"),
students offered a voucher were performing at statistically higher
levels in reading after three years (equivalent to a 3.1 month gain)
than students not offered a scholarship. The reading finding is even
more striking since the treatment group was highly mobile--a factor that
likely contributed to the null findings in years one and two.
(Over the three years, in fact, 51 percent of the treatment group
switched schools 2-3 times.) Unsurprisingly, both groups performed
similarly in math and the program did not have a significant impact in
reading or math for those students who applied from the worst performing
public schools. While this latter finding is unfortunate and has been
cited by Secretary Duncan as reason to shut down the program, we should
remember that students coming from the very worst schools are the
hardest to remediate and require the most time to do so; this study only
measures three years. In addition to the headline finding, the study
discovered that the voucher program had improved reading achievement for
5 of 10 (statistically significant) subgroups: students not previously
attending a school in need of improvement, those with higher levels of
performance at time of entry into the program, those entering grades K-8
when they applied (i.e., everyone but high school students), female
students, and first year students (though these last two are less
reliable than the other three). Shame on the Department for pulling its Friday-afternoon-release stunt for such important data. We're hoping Congress perused the Saturday papers. Read it here.

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