A new study from N.C. State University is sure to provide fuel for fans of the state’s so-called Opportunity Scholarship program, which offers vouchers for low-income students to attend private schools.
But a new editorial from Capitol Broadcasting Company points out a number of the looming questions about how best to study voucher performance in a state that’s resisted efforts to open up private school records.
From the editorial:
There is only one conclusion that can honestly be drawn from the just-released N.C. State University study of North Carolina’s so-called “opportunity scholarships” – the private school voucher program.
The report says the program fails to provide even a shred of accountability and transparency so citizens can determine if taxpayer dollars are being used to improve student learning – or even are being used for education.
Don’t take our word for it. Read it.
One of the report’s authors describe the study as “quasi-experimental.” Caveats included in the report read more like the warnings for prescription medication than an evaluation of a government program.The very first paragraph of the news release about the report says: “A new working paper that compares scores of a small volunteer group of public and private school students on the same standardized test found positive effects for voucher recipients, particularly first-year participants in the North Carolina Opportunity Scholarship Program, but authors caution against reading too much into the results.”
It hedges, hems and haws on a statement that the program has had a “positive effect,” by saying it “may be the case.” It then goes on to say “perhaps” the program is reaching economically disadvantaged students and “perhaps” there is the chance for academic growth.
Would you take the word of a doctor who tells you it “may be the case” that a “quasi-experimental” medication will knock out your infection; that “perhaps” it will heal your wound; and “perhaps” you’ll be back to normal?
The report is fertilized with cautions, warnings and trigger words to let readers know it is sketchy to try to reach conclusions or even spot trends. The demographics of the voucher schools in the study don’t even come close to matching with the actual universe of schools that receive voucher funds. For example, Catholic schools make up 10 percent of the schools that receive vouchers but 53 percent of voucher schools in the study are Catholic.
Near the end of the report, the authors pointedly warn: “The results reported here are not reflective of the average test score impact on a typical voucher student attending a North Carolina private school by way of the Opportunity Scholarship program.”
The goal of those who ordered up the report had little to do with an objective evaluation. What they wanted was a campaign sound-bite. Inflated statements about the report that say it shows “positive, large and statistically significant” impact of vouchers spread across the Twittersphere and other social media avenues.
Unlike many of the private schools in North Carolina that receive voucher funds, those run by the Catholic church have, for decades, used recognized national-norm testing (Iowa and CogAT – Cognative Abilities Test) – that is also used in public schools. They are far more transparent about the performance of their students – probably why they were far more willing to take part in the study.
Citizens rightly demand that public schools meet standards and demonstrate that student are – or are not – achieving. Does it make ANY sense that millions of tax dollars should go to private schools that don’t have to demonstrate that kids are learning – or even attending class?
The latest report from N.C. State University tells us little about the voucher program and doesn’t bring us any closer to the transparency and accountability the program needs.