A Tale of Two Schools: Voucher Performance

Performance is uneven in traditional public schools. Performance is uneven in charter schools. It should come as no surprise that performance is uneven in nonpublic schools.

Let’s look at two schools participating in the Orleans voucher pilot: St. Leo the Great and Upperroom Bible Church Academy.

  • Last year, St. Leo had 136 voucher students; Upperroom Bible had 74.
  • Both began participation 4 years ago, beginning with students in grades K-3.
  • Both had more than 60% of their total student population receiving vouchers.
  • Students enrolling in either school from grades 1 and up came from a failing school.
  • Students at both schools took the same state tests – iLeap and LEAP.

But the similarities stop here.

St. Leo the Great is providing their voucher students real educational opportunity.

  • On the state tests, 68% met the state’s proficiency goal of Basic or above.
  • They outperformed all but 6 schools (charter and traditional) in the RSD.

Upperroom Bible Church Academy, on the other hand, would rank as the 2nd lowest performing elementary school in the state.

  • A mere 24% of its students met the state proficiency goal. Only Craig Elementary, which is converting to a charter school under new leadership this coming school year, performed worse.
  • Upperroom Bible has applied for 167 more voucher slots for the 2012-13 school year, which would more than double their entire school enrollment. 

If Upperroom Bible Church Academy was a public school, BESE would be declaring it a chronically failing school (failing for 4 or more consecutive years) and placing it in the RSD. It would not be rewarding this performance by a doubling the school’s enrollment.

Implemented well, vouchers can provide thousands of students with better education options. Allowing students in low performing schools to go to a better school could be a game changer not only for these students and their families, but also for the state.

Implementing the voucher program well requires real accountability.  This means a common, rigorous standard that gives parents good information and allows the state to limit the participation of schools that underperform.

Without real accountability, public support for vouchers will disappear.  The good work of the many will be overwhelmed by the poor performance and financial mismanagement of the few.

The legislature gave the State Superintendent and BESE the authority to implement accountability for the scholarship program. It is time to do so.