Evaluation of the Impact of the DC Choice Program
Contractor: Westat, University of Arkansas
In 2004 Congress established the first federally funded private school voucher program, with annual funding of about $14 million. The program provides scholarships of up to $7,500 for low-income residents of the District of Columbia to send their children to participating local private schools, with students from "schools in need of improvement" under the Elementary and Secondary School Act receiving the highest priority for admission. The law also mandated that the Department conduct an independent, rigorous impact evaluation of what is now called the DC Opportunity Scholarship Program (OSP). The evaluation addresses three key questions:
- What is the impact of the scholarship program on student academic achievement and attainment, overall and for students from the high priority group?
- What effect does the program have on student and parent perceptions of school safety and satisfaction?
- To what extent is the program influencing schools and expanding choice for parents in Washington, DC?
The evaluation primarily compared outcomes of approximately 2,300 students randomly assigned by lottery to either receive a scholarship or not receive a scholarship. Lotteries of student applicants took place in spring 2004 (for student enrollment in fall 2004) and spring 2005 (for enrollment in fall 2005). Data were collected for four follow up years, for students in both the scholarship and non-scholarship groups. The contractor administered academic assessments, and conducting student, parent, and principal surveys each spring.
Cost/Duration: $7,998,164 over 6.5 years (July 2004–January 2011)
A final report (following 2 descriptive reports and 3 interim reports) was published in June 2010 (http://ies.ed.gov/ncee/pubs/20104018/index.asp).
- There was no conclusive evidence that the OSP affected student achievement overall, or for the high-priority group of students who applied from "schools in need of improvement."
- The Program significantly improved students' chances of graduating from high school, according to parent reports. Overall, 82 percent of students offered scholarships received a high school diploma, compared to 70 percent of those who applied but were not offered scholarships. This graduation rate improvement also held for the subgroup of OSP students who came from "schools in need of improvement."
- Although parents had higher satisfaction and rated schools as safer if their child was offered or used an OSP scholarship, students reported similar ratings for satisfaction and safety regardless of whether they were offered or used a scholarship.
- The cumulative loss of students between 2004 and 2009 from DC public schools (traditional and charter schools) to the Program was about 3 percent. In contrast, an estimated 20 percent of students annually change schools or leave the district. Thus, OSP-related transfers to private schools may not have been distinguishable from the larger share of other student departures, and therefore less likely to have an impact on public school operations.