Empty Promises on School Vouchers

Yet another empirical study showing that vouchers work has been added to the pile -- but this time the study is in Washington D.C., where the politics of vouchers are especially complicated. The positive results for the program are an embarrassment to Congress, which just voted to end the program without waiting for the study results to come out (oops!), and to the Obama administration, which has been desperately hoping to dodge the issue.

But those who should be most embarrassed by this study actually have nothing to fear from it -- and thereby hangs a tale about a little-noticed provision in the law that makes D.C. vouchers uniquely frustrating.

These new results are actually the third year's worth of data from an ongoing evaluation of the D.C. program. As sometimes happens with voucher research, in the study's first two years the positive results for vouchers did not quite reach full statistical certainty. Back then, voucher opponents made a big deal out of this, claiming it meant the voucher program wasn't working. But if you were reading Pajamas Media, you knew better. And now, as with previous studies, additional data have helped the positive results for vouchers reach statistical certainty.

Question one: Since voucher opponents made such a big deal out of this ongoing study back when its results were not yet statistically certain, will they continue to respect the study now that its positive results are certain? The question answers itself.

Question two: Will voucher opponents be made to pay any price for praising this study when its results could be misleadingly twisted to suit their preferences, then ignoring it now that they no longer can be? That question also answers itself.

These new findings come on the heels of positive empirical findings for Milwaukee vouchers the week before and build on a large body of high-quality previous research consistently finding the same thing. If evidence were going to decide the voucher debate, there wouldn't be a debate any more.

And in fact, we were repeatedly promised that evidence would decide the debate. The president, his education secretary, the head of the Senate subcommittee overseeing the program, and a host of others all promised that they would evaluate vouchers guided solely by evidence.