To the Editor:
As reported in an Education Week news blog, the Education Research Alliance at Tulane University and the Education Reform Demonstration Project at the University of Arkansas have released a new study (“Student Test-Score Performance Fell in Louisiana Voucher Program, Study Finds”).
As a Democrat, the president of the Louisiana Federation for Children, and a former state senator who voted in favor of the Louisiana Scholarship Program, which the study evaluates, I welcome such studies. However, in looking at the resulting findings, it is important that we understand the conditions in which the program operated in 2012 and acknowledge the challenges and the improvements it has seen since then.
The study’s authors speculate on four potential explanations for the large negative effects that their program evaluation found: misalignment of private school curriculum to the Louisiana State Standards; differences between serving scholarship students with achievement gaps and traditional private school students; success of other education developments, especially in New Orleans; and the overall quality of private schools willing to participate in the program. Indeed, several of the low-performing schools have been forced out of the program since its development of a robust accountability system.
Recently, the Louisiana Department of Education released its 2015 report on nonpublic school choice within the state, which includes academic data for all students in 3rd through 8th grades participating in the Louisiana Scholarship Program. The report provides data that indicate scholarship students are making academic progress and are closing the achievement gap with the statewide student average by almost half over the last five years, from 32 percentage points in 2011 to 18 percentage points in 2015.
Are we satisfied? No. But this is progress, and we welcome scrutiny in order to better serve those served by the scholarship program. Our goal is that Louisiana’s most at-risk students continue to have access to quality educational options.
Louisiana Federation for Children
Baton Rouge, La.
A version of this article appeared in the March 30, 2016 edition of Education Week as Study of Louisiana’s Narrowing Achievement Gap Is Valuable