The nation's capital is the only city in the US where, for more than a decade, the federal government has been giving vouchers to underprivileged children to attend private schools.
Teachers and unions mostly oppose this approach. Trump and Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, of course, largely support this approach. DeVos has pumped millions of dollars into school voucher programs, and now she's ready to take her issue to a national level.
However, there's a problem with her plan. The Institute of Education Sciences, (IES), part of DeVos' own department, last week came up with the finding that many of the beneficiaries of the DC Opportunity Scholarship Program, which provides the vouchers, might actually do better to turn down the private school money.
As The Atlantic explains,
"The IES compared test scores for two groups of students: students who, through a lottery process, were selected to receive vouchers, and students who applied for yet didn't receive them. The study compared the progress of both groups of students from spring of 2012 to 2014 and found that, a year after they applied for the scholarship, math scores were lower for students who won vouchers. What's more, after narrowing the pool of students down to those in kindergarten through fifth grade, both reading and math scores were lower for students who won vouchers."
What's the Deal With School Vouchers?
Basically these vouchers are coupons, backed by state dollars, that can be used by parents to send their kids to the school of their choice, even private, religious schools. The money is roughly the equivalent of what the state would have spent to educate the child in a public school.
Often called scholarships, vouchers are most often reserved for low-income students, children with disabilities or for families zoned to a failing public school.
Currently, 14 states offer traditional student vouchers: Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Mississippi, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, Utah, Vermont and Wisconsin, plus Washington, DC.
The problem with these vouchers is that they take much-needed taxpayer money away from public schools and give it to private and religious schools. Even worse, they are a double waste of money, since they don't even work.
This IES publication is the latest in a recent string of statewide and local reports on voucher programs that have found underwhelming academic results: A 2015 study of an Indiana program found no improvements in reading and "significant losses in achievement" in math, and in 2016, a study of a program in Louisiana found "strong and consistent evidence that students using a [Louisiana Scholarship Program] scholarship performed significantly worse in math."
Specifically, a team of researchers led by Jonathan Mills of Tulane University found that students in Louisiana's program fell behind in their first two years in the program. Those performing at average levels in math and reading dropped 24 percentile points in math and eight points in reading after their first year in the program.
"These results are without precedent in the educational literature," says Kevin Carey, director of the education policy program at New America. "Among the past results, none were as positive as these are negative."
How Will the IES Report Impact Future Voucher Projects?
This new report comes as Trump and DeVos work on persuading Congress to devote hundreds of millions of dollars to a voucher program as part of a $1.4 billion plan to expand school choice among private, parochial and public charter schools, while cutting the Department of Education budget by a whopping 14 percent.
It seems pretty clear that Trump and DeVos are determined to implement policies that cripple the public education system.
As the New York Times reports, Senator Patty Murray of Washington said that, "when Secretary DeVos's own department's independent research office tells her that siphoning taxpayer dollars into private schools has a negative impact on students, it's time for her to finally abandon her reckless plans to privatize public schools across the country."
DeVos, meanwhile, pledged to continue fully funding the Washington voucher program. But with more and more 'F' grades rolling in, how is she going to convince Americans that school vouchers are a good idea?
DeVos may want to dismiss the result of this research as "fake news," but the truth is that this DC study is just the latest in a series of studies showing that vouchers may be harmful to students.
She may not change her mind, but the results of the study will contribute to the growing debate over vouchers, and give Democrats another tool to attempt to thwart the Trump administration's education agenda.
And teachers are strong. We will resist!