RSD Schools Significantly Outperform Voucher Program


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

View the results for all tests.


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.

9 comments on “RSD Schools Significantly Outperform Voucher Program

  • Sandy Rosenthal says:

    This is very interesting news provided which an in-depth analysis.

    And I completely agree that parents may have “assumed these private schools were a better academic option.” And they may not have known that “the state did not require nor collect any information on their academic track record.”

    I agree that the key issue is the parents and that they should now be given information.

  • Robbie Evans says:

    This is a very interesting and thought provoking phenomenon.I would think that part of the reason for this divergence in performance between voucher students and non voucher, is that in public schools, tremendous emphasis is put on passing the LEAP and I-LEAP tests. In private schools, I am sure that this is not nearly the same situation. This is probably because private schools think that they are providing a rounded education and that it is not as important to teach to the tests.

    This begs the question: Are these non public schools really that bad, or do our standardized tests not accurately reflect the level of real and essential learning taking place in our public schools? Or could it be that the overall learning capability of the pool of voucher students is lower than from the general population? (I would not think this to be the case).

    The answer to this question would seem to be worthy of further investigation.

  • RICKY A. LENART says:

    To Whom This Concerns,
    When will New Orleans Politicians learn to check everything out better instead of always lining their own pockets? This City will never grow if all we think about is our own pockets vs. what really is good for the City!

  • The biggest problem with school voucher programs is that they can NEVER solve the problem of poor schools. It probably can be beneficial for some parents whose kids go to a failing school. But if there are 500 kids who go to a failing school, they can’t all get a voucher to go to a nearby private school. It’s inadequate by design and it unavoidably leaves some kids in bad situations. We need to find a way to address schooling for ALL children, regardless of race, SES, or – and I’m sure this is controversial – parental involvement. It’s unlikely that New Orleans schools will ever see 100% parental involvement no matter how much that would improve all schools. We need to find a way to bring up all schools. I think we are getting there, but not fast enough for all the kids who are in school right now.

  • I applaud Ms. Jacobs for putting this out on the table. The fact is that there must be some way to evaluate the efficacy of the pilot Voucher program. And Ms. Jacobs is giving us a first glimpse into this based on the only comparable data we have such that there is a disparity of performance between the public schools and the private schools accepting vouchers. It thus demands re-evaluation and re-assessment.

    Robbie Evans – Schools must teach towards something, some quality of learning that can be evaluated. I don’t have a problem with that as long as I know what the curriculum is being shaped around. Your suggestion that maybe scores are different because voucher schools provide a more rounded education is a presumption that is grounded in wishful speculation than in any concrete data. My kids go to a public elementary school in New Orleans, and I guarantee you that they are getting a more rounded education than I got attending parochial Catholic elementary school. So I doubt your suggestion is valid. But, it would be worth measuring, since even just relying on my anecdotal personal experience with both is not a scientific measure of it.

    What we really need is much more transparency from private voucher schools in how and what they teach, and how they measure performance.

  • Robbie hit the nail on the head. A friend in England recently sent this Newsweek article illustrating the problem with our national obsession with testing:

    “The Creativity Crisis

    For the first time, research shows that American creativity is declining. What went wrong—and how we can fix it.

    The European Union designated 2009 as the European Year of Creativity and Innovation, holding conferences on the neuroscience of creativity, financing teacher training, and instituting problem-based learning programs—curricula driven by real-world inquiry—for both children and adults. In China there has been widespread education reform to extinguish the drill-and-kill teaching style. Instead, Chinese schools are also adopting a problem-based learning approach.

    Plucker recently toured a number of such schools in Shanghai and Beijing. He was amazed by a boy who, for a class science project, rigged a tracking device for his moped with parts from a cell phone. When faculty of a major Chinese university asked Plucker to identify trends in American education, he described our focus on standardized curriculum, rote memorization, and nationalized testing. “After my answer was translated, they just started laughing out loud,” Plucker says. “They said, ‘You’re racing toward our old model. But we’re racing toward your model, as fast as we can.”

  • Concerned Parent says:

    To whom ot may concern My children which I have 3 that were in a failing RISD and recieved a voucher to attened a private school. I opted to take the voucher and my children attended St Leo the Great which was a total disappointment. They did not teach my children anything !!!! They were more focused on behavior and looking down their noses at the children because they were on vouchers. I am all for the vouchers for the children but there must be rules set in place to make sure that they are teaching the children at a level that is acceptable not just collecting the money to make their school better. Before Katrina alot of these archdiosee schools were in trouble and the have gotten a breath of air with the voucher program and it Must be some rules and standards put in place for the schools to make sure they are teaching the children. My children are headed back to RISD because of this ituation .I know one bad apple shouldnt spoil the bunch but St. Leo has ruined it for me… My chidren are whats most important and I will not play with their education. So the state need to put their foot down are all these kids will defenitly be behind when they have to return to public schools after what 5 grade their parents will be sorry for wasting their time. New Orleans need to take time and pride in their own school systems and rebuilding them instead of paying out and the children are getting lost in the process…… My opinion…..Thanks

  • Here’s what no one seems willing to admit (mention) about these Leap and iLeap numbers…
    the students who receive the vouchures come from particularly disadvantaged households or else they would not have qualified for the vouchures. That are essentially a “sample” of former public school population. So comparing this sample’s scores to those population as a whole at the RSD and Charter schools seems misleading. All is tells us for certain is that the vouchure-qualified students were starting from behind the 8-ball.

  • If you don’t like your slotted public school then move or get a job that enables you to pay the tuition. Vouchers could be a good thing if they are offered to everyone who pays school tax to direct that money to a school of their choice. The current way vouchers are proposed is just another form of welfare.


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