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More Regulation of D.C. School Vouchers Won't Help Students. It Will Just Give Families Fewer Choices for Their Kids

July 22, 2018 in Economics

By Corey A. DeAngelis

Corey A. DeAngelis

The most recent federal evaluation of the Washington,
D.C., school voucher program found that it led to a 10-point
reduction in math test scores and a statistically insignificant
change in reading test scores after two years. Because of this
evidence, some people are now calling for more standardized testing
regulations
of the private schools that low-income families
want their kids to attend.

This is a very bad idea.

The program already requires that participating students
take the D.C. Public Schools assessment in grades 3 through 8. More
stringent test score regulations would increase the schools’
costs of participation — meaning new rules and expenses
associated with complying with them — and therefore
discourage them from accepting vouchers, reducing the number of private school options
available to families
. Limiting the number of options
guarantees that many children from low-income families would end in
up schools that were not their top choices.

Families choose schools for their children based on several
important factors, including culture, individual attention, and, of
course, safety. Research tells us that parents —
unsurprisingly — often value these things more than
standardized test scores. Perhaps that is why the same federal evaluation of the D.C. program found
that 74 percent of voucher parents reported that their child’s school was “very
safe,”
while only about 55 percent of those not offered a
voucher reported their child was at a “very safe”
school.

Restricting the abilities of families to choose safer schools
because of math test scores could force disadvantaged children to
attend schools that their families perceive as being more
dangerous. Though an unintended consequence, that would be a huge
mistake.

But the lackluster math test score result brings up the
question: Why don’t families care all that much about
standardized exams?

It may just be that test scores aren’t as important as the
experts wish them to be. A recent review of the school choice evidence
released by the American Enterprise Institute found that test
scores are weak predictors of long-term outcomes such as high
school graduation and college enrollment. In fact, the authors of
the previous peer-reviewed evaluation of the D.C. program found
no “conclusive evidence that the [voucher
program] affected student achievement
,” but, “the
program significantly improved students’ chances of
graduating from high school” by 21 percentage points.

Similarly, I have identified 11 studies of private schools indicating divergences
between test scores and more important long-term outcomes such as
tolerance of others, adult criminal activity, and happiness. Maybe
families are on to something that the experts have been missing all
along.

It isn’t …read more

Source: OP-EDS

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