Voucher Results in D.C.–How Will We Measure School Success?

June 22, 2007

I am interested in seeing how the latest results of D.C.’s high profile voucher plan get spun. According to the Washington Post (I have not yet read the report itself, so keep that in mind), test scores have not gone up. One valid response: this is the first year of the evaluation. You might not expect to see improvement right away, especially given that when students change schools they typically struggle in the first year. So let’s wait and see; it is too early to call this a failure.

But I want to address the other argument that loomed large in the Post and the New York Times stories on this report. Some voucher supporters are arguing that because parents are satisfied with the program that is enough to vindicate the experiment.

Wait a minute. Let’s get very clear on what metrics we are going to use to evaluate vouchers, or any educational reform for that matter.

The dominant view in education policy–enshrined in No Child Left Behind–is that schools will be judged by how students do on reading, math, and science tests. A public school that would otherwise be labeled failing does not get a pass, no matter how satisfied the parents say they are. So if parental satisfaction measures are sufficient to justify a voucher program with mediocre test score results, they should be good enough for a public school. Which would mean re-writing NCLB, among other accountability laws.

Having said that, let’s look on the bright side. Perhaps the debate over how to measure the success of a voucher program will ultimately have an positive impact on how we evaluate educational reforms generally.

I for one like that schools are increasingly paying attention to reading, math and science scores, and I support increased accountability. But ultimately I would like us to look at a broader range of data.

Voucher proponents are correct, parental satisfaction should count–but for all schools, not just voucher schools. But let’s not stop there. There are other important things that thoughtful educators try to teach. For example, many of us are trying to foster resilience, creativity, perseverance, empathy, caring, and courage. But I haven’t figured out a way to measure whether we’ve succeeded. These things are as hard to assess as they are essential to teach.

But we don’t have a choice. We have to start figuring out ways of measuring and proving that students have learned these things. The data-driven world is here to stay in education. The challenge, I believe, for educators today is to figure out how to capture, and measure, some of things that we know matter, but aren’t currently assessed.

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7 Responses to “Voucher Results in D.C.–How Will We Measure School Success?”


  1. […] public schools. Now, the whole mode of analysis is supposed to turn on a dime. James Forman Jr. is right on target at Extra Credit, when he says that The dominant view in education policy – enshrined in No Child […]

  2. Jane Dimyan-Ehrenfeld Says:

    “There are other important things that thoughtful educators try to teach. For example, many of us are trying to foster resilience, creativity, perseverance, empathy, caring, and courage. But I haven’t figured out a way to measure whether we’ve succeeded. These things are as hard to assess as they are essential to teach.”

    I think this is a very important, and sadly overlooked, idea. I was just in Boston to attend the moving on ceremony of a group of fifth graders whom I taught in first, third, and fourth grade. At the ceremony I was extremely disappointed to see the same student sweep all of the academic honors awarded because she is a good test taker and turns in very technically precise assignments (she is a wonderful, brilliant girl, but certainly not the top student in every subject if you look beyond test scores). Meanwhile, students who write absolutely breathtaking prose, and those with great, creative mathematical minds, were passed over. I think this pervasive problem won’t be solved until we can recruit and keep teachers who themselves have the qualities that Prof. Forman lists above. The teachers I know who do have those qualities inevitably can find and foster them in their students.


  3. […] caveat: you cannot, in my view, judge a program based on one year of test scores). Leo Casey and I both argued that if test scores are going to count for public schools, voucher defenders cannot claim an […]


  4. […] views here. Eduwonk also noticed inconsistencies in how voucher proponents defend the program. Posted by […]


  5. […] friend James Forman Jr. has an interesting series of posts on vouchers at Extra Credit, here, here, here and […]


  6. […] with the premise that because the parents of the children receiving vouchers like the program (studies show they do), Norton is acting against her constituency by opposing the plan. Of course, Norton’s […]


  7. […] Voucher Results in D.C.–How Will We Measure School Success? «Perhaps the debate over how to measure the success of a voucher program will ultimately have an positive impact on how we evaluate educational reforms generally. … James Forman Jr. is right on target at Extra Credit, when he says that The dominant view in education policy – enshrined in No Child […] […]


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