Two years ago, Louisiana enacted the Student Scholarship for Educational Excellence Program, a pilot voucher program in New Orleans designed to offer students an alternative to attending a failing public school. The voucher program gives parents of eligible students in New Orleans the choice of attending non-public schools that have agreed to participate in the program, and the state pays the tuition.
As a district of choice, Orleans families have multiple education options, including the voucher program. There has been great focus on the reforms inside the Recovery School District (RSD) and the Orleans Parish School Board (OPSB). With the recent test score release, we now have data to begin evaluating the performance of voucher students.
In the 2009-10 school year, 1113 children in grades K-4 received vouchers to attend one of the 32 participating non-public schools. Unfortunately, looking at the spring 2010 test scores, voucher students performed much worse than students in the New Orleans RSD – both its traditionally run public schools and public charter schools.
Of the 1113 voucher students, 240 were tested in 2010: 135 3rd graders took the iLEAP test, and 105 4th graders took the LEAP test. (There are no state tests for students in grades K, 1 and 2.)
Below are the results for the 3rd and 4th grade English Language Arts (ELA) tests.
Percent of Students Scoring Basic or Above in English
The performance of students enrolled in the voucher program raises serious concerns. While Louisiana’s proficiency goal is for all students to be Basic and above, in the voucher schools, only 35% of 3rd graders and 29% of 4th graders earned scores indicating they are grade level proficient in reading. Compare that to the RSD charters, where 54% of 3rd graders and 58% of 4th graders scored Basic and above. In fact, in English 4th grade students enrolled in the RSD charter schools outperformed students attending voucher schools by 2 to 1.
Call to Action
Educate Now! recognizes that the voucher program is only two years old, some participating schools did perform well, and not all participating schools have been in the program long enough to have 3rd and 4th graders. This being noted, however, these poor results merit adjustments to the pilot program so students and their families that choose to participate are provided with some of the safeguards that are in place for students who attend public schools.
1. Informed Choice
Parents assumed these private schools were a better academic option, but the state did not require nor collect any information on their academic track record.
Parents should now be given information on how all students in the program performed and provided with individual school results where there are at least 10 students in a school that have taken the state tests. Just like public schools, the results should be put in context – comparing these schools’ performance to the state as well as other schools in New Orleans. (To protect student privacy, federal law requires a minimum of 10 students to release results.)
2. Amend the Law to Provide Accountability
If our goal is to ensure that all students receive a quality education, then it is critical we apply standards of accountability to the voucher program, just like we have to charter schools. RSD charter schools must go through a rigorous process to be approved and must meet performance standards to keep their charter.
Schools participating in the voucher program should be held accountable for their academic performance. Currently, there are no standards in place. The voucher program was designed to give students at failing schools better choices, so these voucher schools should be expected to demonstrate better academic performance as a condition of staying in the program. The current law should be changed to require all participating schools demonstrate acceptable academic performance.
3. Implement Policies, as Allowed by Current Law, to Refine the Program
The Louisiana Department of Education and the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education need to make immediate changes in their policies and practices to provide greater oversight and guidance of this program, so only high quality non-public schools are allowed to participate.