Georgetown's Third Report on DC Voucher Program Finds Satisfaction and Shifting Concerns Among Families
Washington, DC – The School Choice Demonstration Project (SCDP) at the Georgetown Public Policy Institute (GPPI) has released the results of the third qualitative examination of the Opportunity Scholarship Program (OSP), the parental school choice program targeted at low-income families living in the District of Columbia. The report, titled “Satisfied, Optimistic, Yet Concerned: Parent Voices on the Third Year of the DC Opportunity Scholarship Program,” examines the experiences of families who have been in the program since it’s inception three years ago in 2004 and those who entered two years ago in 2005. Unlike prior evaluations, this report sought not only a deeper understanding of families’ evolving attitudes about and behaviors associated with school choice, but also how they measure student success and how they are most likely to express their satisfaction (or the lack thereof) to policy-makers and other interested stake holders as the pilot program approaches reauthorization.
“With their children now in safer schools, OSP parents report becoming increasingly more focused on the academic development of their children, which they often measure by their informal observations of their children’s attitudes and behaviors versus more formal criteria like grades or test scores,” says co-principal investigator Patrick Wolf, professor of Education Reform and 21st Century Chair in School Choice at the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville and former associate professor at GPPI.
“While most families are very satisfied with the OSP and are optimistic that it will continue to improve,” says Thomas Stewart, an independent researcher who is co-principal investigator, “many are concerned about the availability of slots at the high school level and how this might impact their children’s future in the program.”
The report's key findings include:
1. In retrospect, most families found the conversation with school based personnel to be the most reliable and helpful source of information about schools. Most parents felt the school directory, brochures and other forms of written information were less valuable compared to actual school visits and discussions with school staff when choosing a school.
2. The vast majority of Cohort 1 families have shifted their focus from an emphasis on school safety to matters concerning their children’s academic development. These parents feel that their basic concerns about safety have been assuaged, and they can now turn their attention to monitoring their children’s grades, test scores and other aspects of their academic development.
3. At this stage of their experiences with the OSP, most parents measure their children’s progress almost exclusively by the level of enthusiasm the students express about school and their improved attitudes towards earning. Actual grades and test scores are secondary concerns. By this standard, the vast majority of families reported that their children are succeeding or progressing in very important ways.
4. Given a range of possibilities by which to express their views about their experiences with the OSP, an overwhelming number of parents reported that they preferred sharing their experiences directly with Congress and the City Council as the most viable means of expression because it provides them the most direct way of engaging key decision makers.
5. Parents were more vocal this year about the need for an independent entity to verify the information schools provide to parents about their programs and services, as well as monitor the schools during the academic year.
6. The vast majority of parents continue to express very strong interest in participating in the focus groups that are central to this study. In fact, many parents view participating in the focus groups as a form of civic responsibility. Equally as important, given their very limited interaction with other parents, many of them appreciate the opportunity to share and learn about the experiences of other families.
“It’s clear that the OSP has done more than simply provide families with access to private schools,” says Stephen Q. Cornman, former assistant research professor and administrator of the SCDP at Georgetown University. “Participating in the OSP Program has been the catalyst for many families to move from relatively passive roles in their children’s K-12 academic experiences to more active roles. You can tell from the shift in concerns that parents are becoming more impassioned consumers of education and as funding for the program approaches renewal many families have voiced a willingness to advocate for continued support and reauthorization of the scholarship program.”
The SCDP team of researchers obtained their data through a series of focus group discussions with 110 families, representing approximately 180 students who were awarded scholarships through the OSP. Sixty of these families began the program in its inaugural year (Cohort 1 or C-1) and the other fifty families began the Program in its second year (Cohort 2 or C-2). Questions addressed the important factors parents focused on in choosing a school, the helpfulness of available resources in choosing a school, how parents measure student success, and discussion of how families will communicate with policy makers about renewal of the program. All feedback in the report preserves the anonymity of the respondents.
SCDP’s research was funded by the Annie E. Casey Foundation. Summary versions of this report and previously released reports are available on the SCDP’s Web site at http://www.georgetown.edu/research/scdp.
The DC Opportunity Scholarship Program (OSP), launched during the fall of 2004, is the country’s first federally sponsored K-12 scholarship initiative, offering low-income students the opportunity to attend one of the 58 participating DC private schools of their choosing at public expense. Eligible applicants are selected through a lottery system to receive annual scholarships valued at $7,500 per year. The OSP is managed by the Washington Scholarship Fund, a non-profit organization in DC, under a contract with the U.S. Department of Education.
About the School Choice Demonstration Project (SCDP)
The School Choice Demonstration Project (SCDP), based within the Georgetown Public Policy Institute (GPPI) and the University of Arkansas, is an education research center devoted to the non-partisan study of the effects of school choice policy and is staffed by leading school choice researchers and scholars. SCDP’s national team of researchers, institutional research partners and staff are devoted to the rigorous evaluation of school choice programs and other school improvement efforts across the country. SCDP has collaborated in recent years with other research agencies on the official quantitative examination of DC Opportunity Scholarship Program funded by the U.S. Department of Education, Institute of Education Services, to be released in early spring 2007. For more information on SCDP, visit http://www.georgetown.edu/research/scdp.
About Georgetown Public Policy Institute (GPPI)
Georgetown Public Policy Institute (GPPI) offers masters degrees in public policy and policy management. The Institute's emphasis on academic excellence and engagement with the public policy capital of the world solidly prepares students to tackle the most challenging issues facing contemporary society. For more information on GPPI, visit http://gppi.georgetown.edu.
About Georgetown University
Georgetown University is the oldest Catholic and Jesuit university in America, founded in 1789 by Archbishop John Carroll. Georgetown today is a major student-centered, international, research university offering respected undergraduate, graduate and professional programs on its three campuses in Washington, DC. For more information about Georgetown University, visit www.georgetown.edu.