John Irons's Blog


Economic News, Data and Analysis

Oreos in Utah, Vouchers in DC

Utah is set to have a voter referendum on school vouchers. From the bit of TV watching I did while there over the last 4 days, it looks like an ugly battle.
The big battle seems to swirl around an ad using Oreos to demonstrate the impact of vouchers. (A google search of “oreo Utah vouchers” yields 26,400 results.) Here’s the original ad, and a more accurate demonstration/reply from a public school teacher. The alternative Salt Lake weekly has a nice cover story as well.
Latest polls have the issue going down to defeat.
Ezra Klein is looking at the DC experience.

Ezra Klein: Vouchers in DC

Vouchers in DC
Since I’ve been involved in this debate, I’ve been trying to read up on the various voucher programs that have actually been implemented. To that end, I just grabbed RAND’s Rhetoric versus Reality: What We Know and What We Need to Know About Voucher and Charter Schools. RAND, it goes without saying, is no hotbed of left wingery. But their “Academic Achievement” section begins with this:

The newest experimental voucher evidence comes from the federally sponsored voucher program in Washington DC, established in 2004, known as the DC Opportunity Scholarship Program. The U.S. Department of Education released the findings of the first-year achievement impact study, led by Patrick Wolf of the University of Arkansas, in June 2007. Because the program was oversubscribed, scholarships were awarded by lottery. To examine total program impact on student achievement, the study compared the results of lottery winners with those of lottery losers (regardless of whether the winners actually used their scholarships or whether the losers attended public schools). The authors found no impact, positive or negative, on average test scores in reading or math. Similarly, they found no impact of the effect of using a voucher to attend a private school on average reading or math test scores.

Given that a lot of this conversation has actually been about the DC public school system, this data is relatively important. Again, it doesn’t mean that experimentation couldn’t have positive impacts — say, under charter schools, where pubic accountability is retained — but this intense focus on vouchers stems from a commitment to economic orthodoxy, not because the programs have any proven results.


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