American Federation for Children Response to New IES Study

Today, the American Federation for Children, the nation’s voice for educational choice, released the following statement after the publication of a second year study of the Washington, D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program.

Statement from John Schilling, President of the American Federation for Children: 

The Department of Education’s Institute for Education Sciences (IES) is conducting the second federally mandated study of the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program (OSP), and the first concluded in 2010. The report released yesterday is the two-year snapshot of the second federally mandated study, which requires further context beyond the press headlines.

– The data from a separate meta-analysis of the participant effects of private school vouchers illustrates that the effect of vouchers on participating students’ academic achievement in math tends to be negative in the first two years of study – and this new IES report is the second year snapshot, keeping it in line with other studies. The meta-analysis shows that scores trend positive in the third and fourth year. It is important to acknowledge that these early year snapshots of test scores, while important for long term study, may not be the best predictors of long term achievement or attainment for students who use a choice program.

– As with the first year report of this second IES study in 2017, the sample size is much smaller than the sample size of the first long-term evaluation, which concluded in 2010. The new evaluation is also heavily skewed toward young students: 68 percent of students were in K-5. Student test scores are quite volatile in Kindergarten and first grade, and 36 percent of the study participants are in those two grades. One quarter of the entire sample size is Kindergarten alone (pg 11).

– This IES report notes that second year test scores for all students evaluated improved. The entire D.C. education system has improved significantly, by a number of measures, over the past decade. This is notable because the comparison group for this study is comprised of 46% traditional public school students, 43% public charter school students, and 10% private school students (pg 15); and we know from the NAEP scores that both traditional public school and charter school students in D.C. are showing significant year to year improvement. So when we look at the OSP student performance in comparison to those students, it’s a moving target for student performance. As the IES report authors stated, “An analogy is to a footrace – all students are running forward, but the control group students are running faster,” (pg 20).

– Beyond test scores, the evaluation found that the OSP “had a statistically significant positive impact on both parents’ and students’ general perceptions of school safety two years after applying to the program.” (pg XV)

– Examining year over year academic progress is important. Considering family and student satisfaction with school choice programs is also important. But outcomes, something that can only be studied over a long period of time, are what really matter. We know from the previous OSP evaluation (2010) that 91 percent of children who used their opportunity scholarships graduated from high school, 21 percent higher than those who were offered, but did not receive a scholarship. Data collected by the program administrator over the last six years shows that an average of 93% of OSP 12th graders graduated high school and nearly 90% of those graduates enrolled in college. We can compare this to DCPS’ 73% graduation rate in 2017 (but note that “probe revealed that one in three graduates received their diplomas in violation of city policy”).


DC OSP Facts:

  • The D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program began in the 2004-2005 school year. 8,000 students have been awarded scholarships and more than 21,000 have applied since the program began.
  • The average family income for participating families is $22,000 per year and 95% of participating students are African American and Latino.