WASHINGTON--()--A program that provides school vouchers to low-income D.C. children to attend private schools "significantly improved students' chances of graduating high school" and boosted student graduation rates by 21 percentage points, new data reveals.
“Using a scholarship increased the graduation rate by 21 percentage points.”
These results, from a comprehensive federal evaluation of the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program (OSP), indicate that graduation rate improvements are highest for students who come from chronically underperforming public schools. The federally-funded program has served more than 3,300 students since its inception in 2003. Participating students came from families with an average annual income of just over $24,000.
The report was released today by the U.S. Department of Education's Institute for Education Sciences, which frequently fails to find statistically significant data for any federal education programs. Highlights of the report included:
Graduation Rates Rise: Participating in the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program "significantly improve students' chances of graduating from high school," the report indicated. "Using a scholarship increased the graduation rate by 21 percentage points." In particular, students from chronically underperforming public schools experienced graduation rates that were 20 percentage points higher and female students saw graduation rates increase by 28 percentage points.
Students Improve Reading Skills: Many students are reading at higher levels as a result of the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program. Participation in the voucher program yielded "a statistically significant positive impact on reading achievement at least four years after random assignment for one-half of the student subgroups." In particular, female students gained an additional four months of learning over the course of the program.
Public Schools Take Action to Improve: The D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program has proven a significant catalyst for education reform in Washington, D.C. A stunning 28 percent of D.C. public schools made definitive efforts to improve as a direct result of the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program, the report revealed. Specifically, schools increased efforts to involve parents, improved safety, offered new courses, and lowered class sizes, among other reforms.
Parental Satisfaction is High: Parents who sent their children to schools using scholarships are much happier than parents who don’t, the study reveals. These parents "rated their child's school as significantly safer and more orderly" than traditional D.C. public schools. The study found that "students offered a scholarship attended schools with more frequent parent-school communication" and that 76 percent of participating parents graded their children's schools an "A" or a "B."
"It is important to note that the program is making such a positive, demonstrable impact on the education of students despite any increase in the scholarship cap since the program's inception six years ago," said Virginia Walden Ford, executive director of D.C. Parents for School Choice. "Given the amount that is spent, per child, by D.C. Public Schools, the scholarship program is clearly an education reform program that works." DCPS reported spending $17,542 per student last year. An Opportunity Scholarship is worth a maximum of $7,500.
"Because many students have graduated from the program and the sample size for the study has declined significantly, we didn't see more broad-based achievement gains in areas like math," said Kevin P. Chavous, former D.C. Councilman and chairman of the Black Alliance for Educational Options. "Nonetheless, the results of the study demonstrate what we've known for years: that the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program is making a difference for students who need our help the most and it is helping lead a revitalization of D.C. schools. This program must continue, and we call on Congress to take immediate action to save the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program from extinction."