June 16, 2008
Honorable George Miller
Committee on Education and Labor
House of Representatives
Washington, DC 20515
Dear Mr. Chairman:
I am pleased to present to you the recently completed report, Evaluation of the DC Opportunity Scholarship Program: Impacts After Two Years. This is the fourth in a series of independent reports required by the DC School Choice Incentive Act of 2003. The report was prepared by the Department's Institute of Education Sciences.
This report describes the effects on student achievement of the DC Opportunity Scholarship Program (OSP), the first federally funded voucher program in the United States, approximately 19 months after the start of the students' first school year in the program. Scholarship students come from families with average incomes near the poverty line, and 86 percent would otherwise have been attending public schools that did not meet adequate yearly progress standards (as determined by the No Child Left Behind Act) in the 2006-07 school year.
When statistically significant differences in performance were identified in the report, they consistently favored students participating in the OSP program. For example, the evaluation found that the program had a positive effect on reading achievement for three large subgroups of students, comprising over 88 percent of students participating in the OSP. Although this evaluation found no statistically significant difference in test scores overall between students who were offered a scholarship and students who were not offered a scholarship, it did find that parents of students who were offered the scholarship expressed greater satisfaction with their children's school and perceived the school to be safer.
Key findings in the report include:
The program had a positive impact on reading achievement for three large subgroups of students, comprising 88 percent of participating students: students who applied in the first year of program implementation; students who had previously attended DC public schools that were not identified for improvement; and students who scored in the top two-thirds of the evaluation's baseline testing group. (It should be noted that the performance of this group of relatively higher performing students is equivalent to about the 30th percentile nationally, and thus substantially below the national norm at the 50th percentile.) The advantage that accrued to these students equates to an additional two to four months of learning.
As a reminder, the 2007 study of the program estimated the effects of the program approximately seven months after the start of the students' first school year in the program. That study found that the program had a statistically significant positive effect in year one on math achievement for two large subgroups of students: students who had previously attended DC public schools that were not identified for improvement and students with relatively higher pretest scores compared to other students in the evaluation. These subgroups comprised 83 percent of participating students.
The program had a substantial positive impact on parent satisfaction and their perceptions of school safety. Consistent with the 2007 report's findings, parents of students who were offered scholarships were much more likely to give their child's school high grades ("A" or "B") than were parents of students in the control group. Parents in the treatment group perceived their child's school to be safer than parents in the control group.
Demand for the program remains high. Over 7,000 students have applied for scholarships, and eligible applicants represent 12 percent of the low-income student population in DC.
In summary, last year's report found significant positive effects for the vast majority of students in math after one year in the program and this year's report found significant positive effects for the vast majority of students in reading after the second year in the program. Next year's evaluation will examine impacts on student achievement three years after application to the program. Given the positive trends in these achievement findings, in combination with the high parental satisfaction and strong demand, it is imperative that we continue to provide parents this important option for their children. The three-sector approach adopted by Congress for improving educational opportunities for DC schoolchildren, which provides additional support for DC public schools, DC charter schools, and the OSP, is a historic commitment to providing all students in the nation's capital, especially those most disadvantaged, with the opportunity to succeed. The President's fiscal year 2009 budget includes $74 million for this three-sector approach, and I urge Congress to approve this package this year.
We hope that this report is informative to you and your staff. If you have any questions, please have your staff contact Kim Richey in the Department's Office of Legislation and Congressional Affairs at (202) 401-4001.