Low-Income Students Receiving Vouchers Make Reading Gains

Study finds modest gains in reading but not in math among D.C. students receiving vouchers.

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A new study measuring the success of the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program, the nation's only federally funded voucher program, is reigniting a debate about whether vouchers can help raise achievement among low-income students.

The study, which was conducted by the U.S. Department of Education and released last week, compared the performance and satisfaction of District of Columbia students who received vouchers to attend private schools against students who remained enrolled in regular public schools. It found that overall, the voucher students were at least three months ahead of their public school peers in reading but performed at similar levels in math.

Rep. Howard "Buck" McKeon of California, the top Republican on the House Education and Labor Committee, hailed the report's findings as evidence that vouchers can help struggling students achieve. He and other Republicans have called on Secretary of Education Arne Duncan to push for reauthorization of the D.C. program. Funding for it is slated to end after the 2009-10 school year.

"The U.S. Department of Education has confirmed what we've been saying all along—when parents are given a choice, and children are able to attend safer, higher-performing schools, achievement and satisfaction will rise," McKeon said in a statement.

Duncan has said he doesn't want to create a disruption for the students currently enrolled in the program but believes the program should end because it has not had a significant positive effect on students from the lowest-performing schools. The report says that the particular subgroup of students who received the vouchers after attending schools deemed "in need of improvement" did not make notable gains in reading or math.

The voucher initiative, which was created by a Republican-controlled Congress in 2004, has served more than 3,000 students. Students receive up to $7,500 a year for tuition and other fees to attend schools that participate in the program. A Senate committee is expected to hold hearings later this year on the fate of the program.

Tell us what you think about vouchers. Should kids attending low-performing schools receive vouchers to attend private schools? Or should those tax dollars be spent to improve public education?

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