August 1, 2001
Taubman Center for State and Local Government, John F. Kennedy School of Government
In the fall of 1997, the Washington Scholarship Fund (WSF) announced the expansion of a privately funded school voucher program in Washington, D.C. originally established in 1993. In the spring of 1998, over six thousand students from public and private schools applied to the new program; of these initial applicants, over one thousand were offered scholarships, 809 of whom were attending public school at the time. WSF awarded scholarships by lottery, thereby making it possible to conduct an evaluation designed as a randomized field trial. This evaluation examines the impact of the first two years of the WSF program on those students who completed the baseline testing, were attending public school, and were in grades 1-7 in the spring of 1998. The evaluation estimates the program's impact on student test scores in reading, math and combined achievement, as well as other educational and social outcomes, as reported by parents and students. It is too soon to ascertain the long-term impact of the voucher program sponsored by the Washington Scholarship Fund. Initial results, however, indicate that parents with students in private schools are much more satisfied with their child's school. School-parent communications are more extensive, and students are assigned more homework, in the private sector. After two years in private schools, African American students outperformed their public-school peers by 9 percentile points in combined math and reading, a statistically significant difference. The private-school students also demonstrated higher levels of political tolerance than did the members of the control group.
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