A Senate Hearing Shows Why D.C.'s School Voucher Program Works

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Thursday, May 14, 2009

WE HOPE that President Obama, Education Secretary Arne Duncan, Sen. Richard J. Durbin (D-Ill.) and others who have questioned the effectiveness of school vouchers were tuned in to yesterday's Senate hearing on the District's program. They would have heard moving testimonials from students whose lives have been changed by their ability to get an appropriate education, as well as a plea from a mother desperate that her young daughter have that same opportunity for a better future. Even more critically, they would have heard the judgment of an objective researcher that -- contrary to the claims of some critics -- vouchers are indeed working.

"In my opinion, by demonstrating statistically significant impacts overall in reading in an experimental evaluation, the D.C. [Opportunity Scholarship Program] has met a tough standard for efficacy in serving low-income inner-city students," Patrick J. Wolf told the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Operations. Mr. Wolf is the principal investigator on the team conducting a congressionally mandated study of the program and, as a professor of education policy at the University of Arkansas, has spent more than a decade evaluating school choice programs. Particularly striking was Mr. Wolf's testimony that of the 11 other federal education programs evaluated, only three produced statistically significant improvements akin to what the voucher program has produced. Consider also his calculation that a typical student who entered the program in kindergarten would, by the time of graduation from high school, be reading 2 1/2 years ahead of peers who didn't receive scholarships. There were no discernible impacts in math, although scores show some promise.

The hearing, convened by Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman (I-Conn.) and Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), was part of a last-ditch effort to save the federally funded program that gives D.C. low-income students vouchers of up to $7,500 to attend private schools. Congressional Democrats, backed by the powerful teachers unions, included language in the recent omnibus budget bill that would end the program in 2010. Mr. Obama has proposed letting the 1,700 students now in the program continue their schooling while admitting no new students and letting the program die by attrition. We are glad that Mr. Obama is protecting the interests of participating students, but, as Mr. Lieberman argued, if the program is working, why not continue it so more children can benefit?


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