Panel Paper: Overall and Heterogeneous Effects of the DC Opportunity Scholarship Program

Thursday, November 8, 2018
Hoover - Mezz Level (Marriott Wardman Park)

*Names in bold indicate Presenter

Ning Rui1, Mark Dynarski2, Ann Webber1 and Babette Gutmann1, (1)Westat, (2)Pemberton Research

School voucher, which allows families to have the opportunity to send their children to a school of their choice, has been the subject of much debate over the last few decades. While for some voucher serve as a useful vehicle for expanding school choice for the disadvantaged students, for others it might exacerbate the already severe racial and social segregation among schools, without extensive investments in schools’ capacity in the beginning (Elmore 2002; Kim & Sunderman, 2005). The District of Columbia (DC) Opportunity Scholarship Program (OSP) is the only federally funded program that provides vouchers to low-income families to send their children to private schools that agree to accept them. The program selected students to receive scholarships using a lottery process in 2012, 2013, and 2014, which allows for an experimental design that compares outcomes for a treatment group and a control group.

This paper examines how the offer and use of a scholarship affected student and family outcomes, such as student achievement, satisfaction with schools, perceptions of school safety, and parent involvement, in the first and second year after entering a lottery. The study also analyzes variations in the impacts across subgroups of students, which can be useful for understanding whether the program was effective, or more effective, for some and not others. In particular, we estimated the effects for four student subgroups that were defined at the time students applied for the scholarship: (1) whether students were attending or not attending a school in need of improvement (SINI), (2) whether students scored above or below the median in reading, (3) whether students scored above or below the median in mathematics, and (4) whether students were in an elementary grade (K–5) or secondary grade (6–12). The impact of scholarship offer is the difference between the treatment and control group on measured outcomes after controlling for students’ baseline characteristics and achievement. A generalized estimating equation (GEE) is used to estimate the parameter estimates and to account for clustering among siblings within family. The impact of scholarship use is estimated though the Bloom adjustment technique.

Overall, the study found a statistically significant negative impact on mathematics achievement and no impacts on reading achievement after one year. Negative impacts on both math and reading scores were found for students who were not applying from low-performing schools and for students in grades K–5. The program did not have a statistically significant impact on parents’ or students’ general satisfaction with the school the child attended in the first year. The program had a statistically significant positive impact on parents’ perceptions of safety at the school their child attended in that first year, but student perceptions of school safety were not significantly different between the groups. The OSP did not have a statistically significant impact on parent involvement in education. However, for parents of students in grades 6–12, the program had statistically significant positive impacts on involvement in education-related activities and events at home.

Full Paper: