Congress Reauthorizes DC Voucher Program, Despite Evidence of Negative Effects, and Restricts Future Research

Emma Brown and Peter Jamison report that Congress reauthorized the D.C. Voucher program, on the heels of a federal evaluation showing that vouchers have a negative effect on students who use them.

Now we know that vouchers don’t “save poor children from failing schools.” They actually do educational harm to those children. The purpose of vouchers is choice for its own sake.

Even more surprising is that the new language in the reauthorizatuon bars the use of randomized field trials–long considered “the gold standard”–in future evaluations. RCT is a means of comparing similar groups.

Thus, Congress demonstrates that it not only doesn’t care about the effects of vouchers, but doesn’t want to learn about them in the future.

“The D.C. study was conducted using what’s known as the gold standard in scientific research: An experimental design, comparing the performance of students who received a voucher through a citywide lottery to the performance of their peers who applied for a voucher and didn’t receive one. The study was designed to comply with the law as currently written, which requires the “strongest possible research design” for determining the vouchers’ effectiveness.

“The reauthorization rolls back that language and prohibits the department’s researchers from using that gold standard. Instead, it says that researchers must use a “quasi-experimental” design, comparing voucher recipients to students with “similar backgrounds” in D.C. public and public charter schools.

“Researchers say this approach is generally weaker because it creates uncertainty about whether the comparison is fair.

“This program has been studied rigorously since it began in 2004, using an approach that the field of medical research would regard as common practice,” said Mark Dynarski, who co-authored the D.C. study released last week. “If rigor is rolled back, a future study might lead to more questions than answers.”

“Rep. Gerald E. Connolly (D-Va.) called the research change an “egregious dilution” of serious science, accusing his Republican counterparts of trying to escape empirical data that might not back up their school-choice philosophy.”

from novemoore


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