Thursday, June 24, 2010

D.C Voucher School Final Report: Failed!

The D.C voucher program failed! Oh, but you'd never know that if you read the breaking news story in the Washington Post: "The U.S. Department of Education issued its final evaluation of the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program -- aka school vouchers."

So will the study move the ball? Here's what it found: (a) "There is no conclusive evidence that the [voucher program] affected student achievement." (b) The program "significantly improved students' chances of graduating from high school" -- by 12 percent. And (c), the program "raised parents', but not students', ratings of school safety and satisfaction."
But something was missing from point (b). Check out the actual language:
The Program significantly improved students' chances of graduating from high school, "according to parent reports."
There's more:
"Graduation rates are as reported by parents during telephone surveys … about 500 of the 2,300 students in the study were old enough to have graduated from high school. Parents of these students were surveyed about their child’s progress through school.
If that didn't raise a few red flags, check out this additional caveat:
Based on parents who responded, the offer of an OSP scholarship increased students’ probability of completing high school by 12 percentage points overall.
But what is the actual number when ALL students who completed high school were counted, and not just what was reported from the "parents who responded?"

In an attempt to spin the final report in a positive way, the Washington Post article took the "parents who responded" "parent reports" section of the summary, and flipped reality on its ear.

But how to explain the essential dilemma of the findings? How can there be such a dramatic rise in graduation rates with so little change in test scores?

Patrick Wolf, the University of Arkansas researcher who led the study, tells me the phenomenon isn't unheard of. As far back as the 1980s, he says, famed sociologist James S. Coleman had theorized that, when it came to disadvantaged students, private schools "had a stronger effect on their persistence in the education system rather than their performance." In other words, they may not do better, but they stay longer" … And then there's this point: "I think the question to ask is, Where's the harm?" Wolf says. "What's the harm of extending this program? There's no evidence that anyone was harmed. And there is some evidence that this helped students."

Wow, what a great program huh? For a lousy final report on the D.C. voucher program, it was mission accomplished for voucher advocates.

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