Shortly after 299 new recipients of the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program, or OSP, were announced for the new school year, a groundbreaking study was released showing that school vouchers raised college enrollment rates for disadvantaged African-American students in New York City by 24 percent. They also were twice as likely to attend a selective college as their peers in public school.
This is the nation's first long-term study of school outcomes among voucher recipients. For 15 years, Professor Paul Peterson of Harvard University's Program on Education Policy and Governance and Matthew Chingos, fellow at the Brookings Institution's Brown Center on Education Policy, followed 2,666 socioeconomically disadvantaged elementary school-age youngsters who were offered New York School Choice Scholarships starting in 1997. The privately funded vouchers, worth $1,400 annually, were first offered for three years and later extended to eighth grade if the families used them continuously.
Peterson and Chingos matched identifying information provided by voucher families when they first enrolled their children with data from the National Student Clearinghouse, reporting that "attrition problems that have plagued school choice evaluations in the past are almost entirely eliminated." Tracking 2,642 students -- or 99.1 percent of their original sample population -- they found "large, significant impacts" on college enrollment among black students.
"The magnitude of the voucher impact seems unusually large given the modest nature of the intervention -- a half-tuition scholarship of no more than $1,400 annually. Among all those offered a voucher, the average length of time a voucher was used was only 2.6 years," the authors note. Yet the positive results for many African-American recipients followed them into post-secondary education.
A 2010 study of the D.C. voucher program by the Department of Education's Institute of Education Sciences found that it improved District recipients' chances of graduating from high school by 12 percentage points. The vouchers have improved the prospects of more than 5,200 D.C. children who would otherwise be trapped in public schools rated most "in need of improvement" -- 87 percent of whom are African-American.
After the Obama administration tried to kill OSP last year, Congress reauthorized and expanded it. Elementary and middle school recipients will now receive up to $8,136 per year to help pay for tuition and fees at participating private and parochial schools, while high school students will receive vouchers worth up to $12,205. Vouchers work -- and the Harvard/Brookings study should effectively silence outspoken critics of this life-changing educational reform.