What happens when the evidence showing that vouchers do not improve student learning, or “fix failing schools”, becomes too obvious to ignore?
Well, if you’re Betsy DeVos, you just flip the rhetoric (i.e., lie).
Just as Ms. DeVos and President Donald Trump are poised to dump $20 billion into a federal voucher program, a new study shows that students receiving vouchers in Washington, DC — the only federally-funded voucher program in the nation — perform significantly worse than their peers in public schools. All while draining roughly $11 million per year from DC’s public school budget.
The D.C. program serves about 1,100 students, giving them up to $8,452 to attend a private elementary or middle school and up to $12,679 for high school. Participating private schools must be accredited by 2021 but otherwise face few requirements beyond showing that they are in good financial standing and demonstrating compliance with health and safety laws.
D.C. students who used vouchers had significantly lower math scores a year after joining the program, on average, than students who applied for a voucher through a citywide lottery but did not receive one. For voucher students in kindergarten through fifth grade, reading scores were also significantly lower. For older voucher students, there was no significant difference in reading scores.
For voucher recipients coming from a low-performing public school — the population that the voucher program primarily aims to reach — attending a private school had no effect on achievement. But for voucher recipients coming from higher-performing public schools, the negative effect was particularly large.
The analysis reviewed data for more than 1,700 students who participated in the lotteries from 2012 to 2014.
Martin West, a professor of education at Harvard, said the D.C. study adds to an emerging pattern of research showing declines in student achievement among voucher recipients, a departure from an earlier wave of research — often on smaller, privately funded scholarship programs — that skewed more positive.
“I think we need to be asking the question: Why is this happening and what should we make of it and should we care?” West said. He said weaker scores among voucher recipients may be a result of the fact that public school performance is improving, particularly in the District, where math and reading scores at traditional public and public charter schools have increased quickly over the past decade.
This new study is just the latest in a long line of research findings showing that vouchers do not have a positive impact on student learning. As I’ve written about previously here, here, here, and here, we’ve known that vouchers are a very bad, no good, horrible idea if you actually care about children, schools, or learning — and a great idea if you fear the tendency of public education to produce critical thinkers, and citizens who might question the status quo. Or if you already send your child to a private — or more likely, a religious school–and would like a federal subsidy for doing so.
Well, now it appears that even our nation’s biggest cheerleader for private and religious school vouchers has seen that the bloom is coming off the voucher’s rose. But instead of admitting that she was wrong, and that maybe the Secretary of Education for the United States shouldn’t be pimping what amounts to a Ponzi scheme to destroy and defraud public education as the central tenet of her administration, Betsy DeVos has simply flipped the switch on her core belief–that vouchers would somehow provide the silver bullet, the magic wand, the secret sauce, that would quickly and easily fuel the improvement of student learning that has somehow eluded the best efforts of generations of educational experts.
The old rationale: Vouchers will rescue children from the tyranny of attending the failing schools in their Zip Code, and unlock the potential of all students.
The new rationale: “When school choice policies are fully implemented, there should not be differences in achievement among the various types of schools,” she said in a statement.
Neat twist, that. I’m not sure how you look yourself in the mirror after you’ve devoted your entire life to destroying public schools and simultaneously boosting charter, private, and religious schools as being clearly and obviously the “better choice” for all children — and then just abruptly switch gears to “the point of vouchers isn’t that they help kids escape the schools we are destroying — it’s just about choicy, choicy choice. Because CHOICE.”
If anyone needed any proof that Ms. DeVos doesn’t care a single whit about children’s learning, or helping the public schools, or…really, anything but profits and redirecting public dollars to private bank accounts, there it is.
Choice isn’t about helping kids learn. It’s just about choice.
Let’s all hope that Ms. DeVos learns the difference between simple and simplistic.