Evaluation of the DC Opportunity Scholarship Program - Second Year Report on Participation


Citation: Wolf, Patrick, Babette Gutmann, Michael Puma, and Marsha Silverberg. Evaluation of the DC Opportunity Scholarship Program: Second Year Report on Participation. U.S. Department of Education, Institute of Education Sciences. Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office, 2006.

Background: In January 2004 Congress passed legislation that established the first Federal government initiative to provide K-12 education scholarships, or vouchers, to eligible families to send their children to private schools of choice. To be eligible, a student must reside in the District and have a family income at or below 185 percent of the Federal poverty line. The statute also required a rigorous evaluation of the Program.

Purpose: To provide an update to the first report to Congress by describing the schools and students who applied to and became participants in the DC Opportunity Scholarship Program for the 2005-2006 school year.

Setting: District of Columbia public schools, including charter schools, and private schools in the District of Columbia , both participating in the Program and non-participating.

Population/Sample/Subjects: All eligible applicants to the DC Opportunity Scholarship Program in spring 2004 and spring 2005; all public and private schools in the District of Columbia.

Intervention: The offer of a scholarship to attend a participating private school of choice in the District of Columbia; a scholarship is up to $7,500 to cover the costs of tuition, school fees, and transportation.

Research Design: (1) randomized controlled field trial in which eligible public school applicants applying for grades in which there were more applicants than slots in participating private schools were randomly assigned by lottery to either receive a scholarship or not; (2) tracking of participation of all eligible applicants and performance of those receiving scholarships.

Control or Comparison Condition: Eligible applicants that were not offered a scholarship as a result of the lottery.

Data Collection and Analysis: The SAT-9 is administered to all eligible applicants, whether randomly assigned or not, in the spring of each year; surveys are administered to students in grades 4-12, parents, and principals of public and private schools in DC.

Findings: Over the first two years of the Program, a total of 5,818 students applied and 4,047 of them were deemed eligible for the Program. Over 40 percent of eligible public school applicants are from schools deemed in need of improvement under the No Child Left Behind law. By fall 2005, 2,454 students had been awarded scholarships, more than half by lottery because they were in grades for which there were more public school applicants than slots in participating private schools. Over the first two years of the Program, 2,308 students were subject to a lottery and randomly assigned such that 1,387 received scholarships (treatment group) and 921 did not receive scholarships (control group). By fall 2005, the Program was operating at capacity, with more than 1,700 students using scholarships at 60 of 68 participating private schools.

Conclusions: Data are still being collected for the evaluation of the Program’s effectiveness.

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Last Modified: 05/04/2006