Study finds D.C. school choice program increases student satisfaction

The D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program (OSP), serving low-income students in the nation’s capital, has generated high satisfaction among its participants.

A study by the Institute of Education Sciences, a research branch of the U.S. Department of Education, concluded students in the scholarship program were “less likely to miss classes than peers who applied but did not get scholarships,” more likely to give their school a high grade than their peers, and “more likely to give their schools a positive safety rating,” as reported by The Daily Signal.

The Department of Education’s evaluation… compared achievement and other outcomes of students who received vouchers and those who did not three years after both groups applied to the scholarship program.

“For one-third of the amount spent per pupil in the D.C. public schools, the OSP [Opportunity Scholarship Program] produced kids who scored the same on tests but were happier, safer, and less truant,” said Patrick Wolf, director of the University of Arkansas Department of Education Reform.

“That’s a clear win for school choice,” Wolf said.

While the scholarship program hasn’t increased test scores, it’s worth repeating that it is able to produce the same academic outcomes as the neighborhood public schools for a third of the cost. Plus, the program’s impact on chronic absenteeism, student satisfaction, and perceptions of school safety confirm it is a worthy investment. And by moving the conversation beyond test scores, the scholarship program reinforces the value and efficacy of other measures, Lindsey Burke with The Heritage Foundation shared.

What to make of the null effect on test scores? A growing body of scholarly research has demonstrated that test scores are poor indicators of the long-term impacts on student academic and later life outcomes. Moreover, parents put very little value in test score data, and instead prize school safety, values, and character development, and the intangible benefits of a school, such as caring teachers.

The OSP is the only federally funded program that provides vouchers to low-income families to send their children to private schools. It was first enacted in 2004 by President George W. Bush and reauthorized in 2011. In 2017, the Trump administration reversed an Obama-era policy of denying vouchers to low-income students in D.C. who attend private schools, and reinstated spending for the program. Scholarship amounts range from up to $8,857 for grades K-8 and $13,287 for grades 9-12.

As of Spring 2019, 46 schools participate in the program and it serves over 1,600 D.C. students.