Thursday, March 11, 2010

Myths and Facts about the DC Opportunity Scholarship Program

Here are some myths and facts about the DC Opportunity Scholarship Program, which provides scholarships to low-income students living in the District of Columbia.

Myth: the OSP program has failed to improve academic achievement:

Fact: This is a false statement. The congressionally mandated IES study, using the most rigorous evaluation design, found statistically significant gains in reading for the target population – low income DC school children. According the Dr. Wolf, the principal investigator for the IES study, “the reading impact of the DC voucher program is the largest achievement impact yet reported.” and “..the DC voucher program has proven to be the most effective education policy evaluated by the federal government’s official education research arm so far.” Of the 11 rigorous experimental studies of education interventions sponsored by IES (the US Department of Education’s official research arm), only 3 have reported any statistically significant achievement gains and the reading gains from the OSP are the largest reported so far.

Myth: Critics then say there were no gains for the target population, students from schools in need of improvement.

Fact: This is a false statement. The target population of the IES study was low-income DC students. The study found statistically significant achievement gains for those students. Students from schools in need of improvement were a subgroup designated under law to get priority in the award of scholarships. The evaluation showed that for this subgroup, as well as most of the other subgroups, the average reading and math scores were higher after 3 years, just not by a statistically significant amount. Researchers know that it is harder to find statistically significant differences among subgroups of students in a study because the subgroups are smaller than the overall group, so less evidence is available to push a gain over the statistical significance bar.

Myth: The DC OSP program takes away money from public schools.

Fact: The OSP program has never diverted funds from public schools. From the beginning, the program has been part of a 3-prong initiative, begun under the leadership of DC Mayor Tony Williams, to provide new funds to DC public schools, DC public charter schools, and the OSP program. Initially, the three prongs were funded in equal amounts. In recent years, DC public and charter schools have received more funding that the OSP.

Myth: The OSP program is being imposed on the District of Columbia.

Fact: The OSP program began under the leadership of Mayor Tony Williams. Mayor Fenty, DC Education Chancellor Michelle Rhee, and a majority of the DC Council have expressed support for continuation of the OSP program under the 3-sector initiative. It is also supported by parents in the District according to polls.

Myth: The OSP program is not the solution to failing schools.

Fact: The OSP program has always been part of a 3-prong program to support DC public schools, charter schools and the OSP. The District per pupil expenditure for public school students is amongst the highest in the nation at $17,653 per student. Yet DC students in public schools score amongst the worst on national tests. The OSP (at less than half the per pupil cost) was never designed as the solution, but it was designed as part of the solution to deliver a quality education to disadvantaged District students while reform efforts continue. DC Education Chancellor Michelle Rhee has said it will take many years to turn around the troubled District schools, and in the mean time, many poor families are looking for a way to provide a quality education for their children. Our amendment specifies an intent to reauthorize the program at least until the DC public schools have made progress.

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