What can the Nation’s Report Card tell us about school choice?

The National Assessment for Educational Progress (NAEP) is a biannual measurement of student learning in core academic subjects and is the only barometer to compare student achievement across all 50 states and the District of Columbia. This week’s release of the 2017 results tell us not much has changed since 2015; as a country, student performance remains stagnant. However, two leaders in the school choice movement – Washington D.C., where nearly 50% of students are enrolled in charter schools, and Florida, home to the largest scholarship tax credit program in the country – defy national trends.
Once a low performer, Florida now performs near the top on NAEP. And the achievement gaps that persist elsewhere between white students and students of color, as well as low-income students and their wealthier peers, have narrowed significantly. Though the District of Columbia remains a low achiever when compared to other states, a review of past NAEP performance speaks to significant growth across demographic subgroups in the nation’s capital. From 2005 to 2017, black student performance in fourth grade reading improved by 20 points in D.C. Students who are eligible for free or reduced lunch saw similar gains. (According to Educational Testing Service, 12 points on the NAEP equates to one year of learning.)
Of the roughly 60 million children attending primary or secondary schools today, nearly half a million in 26 states and D.C. participate in private school choice programs, and another three million attend public charter schools. Though in high demand by families, entrenched special interests continue to work to curtail growth of successful school choice programs. And, although private school students do participate in NAEP, the choice program participant data is not disaggregated. So, while we are limited in using NAEP to draw conclusions about the effectiveness of specific choice policies, results from D.C. and Florida speak to the erroneousness of any claim that school choice hurts traditional public schools.
As the results released this week confirm, in most parts of the country, little has changed in the last decade. That’s just one reason why families in every state should be empowered to choose a school that works best for their child and why we should emulate and grow the success of popular — and effective — choice programs like those in Florida and D.C.


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