Thursday, June 19, 2008

The Science of Vouchers

School voucher programs have become such an undeniable part of conservative orthodoxy that people writing about voucher programs often have to part with reality in order to make their arguements work.

Take an article published Monday in The Hill by David Keene. Writing about efforts to end Washington D.C.'s school voucher program, Keene writes that it's no surprise that liberals oppose this successful program. He says that liberals only care about bureaucracy and expanding the reach of government and don't care about kids. Never mind that the second part of the attack is ridiculous to the point of not even needing to be refuted, Keene is even wrong when he says the program was a success.

As the New York Sun reported, the results were mixed, at best. Frankly, having looked over the mix, that's even a little charitable. A recent study found that after two years in private schools, the vouchered kids showed no statistically significant academic gain compared to kids who applied for the program and didn't get in. That's right. This "successful" program didn't actually improve the academic achievement of the kids for whom it was so successful. Mission accomplished, anyone?

Things like vouchers, school choice, and introducing market-based reforms to education all make sense on paper. That's why they've gained such a following, particularly among conservatives. The only trouble is that there's no basis in the real world for thinking that the programs actually work.

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