A Look Inside PEFNC White Paper Countering Duke’s Flawed Analysis of NC Opportunity Scholarship Program

PEFNC recently released a white paper, North Carolina Opportunity Scholarships: Countering a Flawed Duke Report and Setting the Record Straight, rebutting a flawed analysis of the Opportunity Scholarship Program from the Children’s Law Clinic at Duke Law School. Here is a quick look at what you’ll find inside the paper:

whitepaperDuke’s Flawed Analysis
Based on current data, we don’t know how scholarship students perform relative to similar public school students or other scholarship students at different private schools. However, contrary to what Duke’s report suggests, current data show no definitive evidence that the Opportunity Scholarship Program is not helping, is poorly designed, or those scholarship students are not keeping up with public school students from similar economic backgrounds.

Duke’s initial report provided a flawed comparison of scholarship students and public school students relying on different tests and different comparison groups. While they later removed this direct comparison, the corrected report is still misleading. It still doesn’t explain how they calculated the national average for scholarship students.

Further, the Duke report suggests free and reduced lunch (FRL) public school students in North Carolina and overall public school students in North Carolina performed better than a national comparison group, implying public students are better off academically than scholarship students.

Yet, it doesn’t compare FRL public school students in North Carolina directly to a nationally representative sample of all public school students taking the NAEP. Such a comparison would show “FRL public school students in North Carolina score below the national public school average on NAEP in both reading and math in 4th and 8th grades.” PEFNC’s paper makes clear that the Duke report’s use of NAEP data is fundamentally of little value.

School Choice Programs Nationally
PEFNC’s paper next looks at evaluations of the following school choice programs nationwide:

• Milwaukee Parental Choice Program
• Washington, DC’s Opportunity Scholarship Program
• New York’s Scholarship Program
• Children’s Scholarship Fund-Charlotte, North Carolina
• Florida’s Tax Credit Scholarship Program
• Ohio’s EdChoice Scholarship Program
• Louisiana Scholarship Program

It concludes that school choice research is “more positive, promising, and nuanced than many critics indicate.” Studies show particularly encouraging outcomes for educational attainment (i.e., high school graduation and attendance and persistence in college). For instance, a group of scholarship students in the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program graduated high school and attended college 4-7% more than the public school control group.

The Way Forward
PEFNC’s paper points to an analysis of the Program currently underway as a framework for an “apples-to-apples comparison” that is fair and impartial. The study directly compares the performance of a sample of scholarship students with public school students from similar backgrounds using the same nationally standardized test. Results will be released this fall.

The paper concludes with the Program’s tremendous success at giving low-income families more options and satisfying those families, as shown by the high percentage who renew their scholarships. At the same time, the paper supports independent evaluations.

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