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New White Paper Counters Duke’s Flawed Analysis of NC Opportunity Scholarship Program

Press Release from Parents for Educational Freedom in North Carolina: 

Raleigh, NC (July 13, 2017) – Today Parents for Educational Freedom in North Carolina (PEFNC) announced the release of a new white paper rebutting a flawed academic analysis of the Opportunity Scholarship Program from the Children’s Law Clinic at Duke Law School. PEFNC’s paper, North Carolina Opportunity Scholarships: Countering a Flawed Duke Report and Setting the Record Straight, disputes Duke researchers’ claim that the Program is unlikely to improve student outcomes and clarifies what data show about NC students’ performance. The paper also corrects misinformation about school choice research nationwide and provides a framework for an “apples-to-apples” comparison of state-sponsored scholarship students and public school students. Duke researchers claim such a comparison is not possible since Opportunity Scholarship students are not required to take state tests in North Carolina.

“Publicly-funded private school scholarships are the subject of scrutiny and debate in our state and nation right now, and understandably so. Unfortunately, the March report from the Duke Children’s Law Clinic interjected a flawed analysis of our state’s Opportunity Scholarship Program into the debate,” said PEFNC President Darrell Allison. “Therefore, we are releasing this paper now to set the record straight. Data to date offer no evidence that Opportunity Scholarships are unlikely to improve low-income students’ outcomes in North Carolina. Nationally, the balance of research shows that scholarships benefit students, especially those who remain in such programs. Though we support full accountability, we also want to ensure that Program analysis is done fairly and is driven by facts. Surely we owe that to our state’s citizen-taxpayers, and especially to the thousands of families statewide that depend on the Opportunity Scholarship Program,” said Allison.

According to PEFNC’s white paper, Duke researchers’ initial analysis, which was reported on by the media, featured an inequitable comparison between private school scholarship students and public school students that relied on different tests and different comparison groups. Duke researchers later removed this direct comparison but still provide in their corrected report a problematic and somewhat misleading analysis of public school performance for NC low-income students eligible for the federal school lunch program. PEFNC’s paper offers a more accurate and comprehensive look at NAEP test performance for these students but makes clear that Duke researchers’ inclusion of NAEP data is of little value in either version of their report.

PEFNC’s paper also reviews national school choice research. Scholarship programs are generally linked with positive academic outcomes for students, especially after several years. Benefits are most evident for African American students, and in the areas of reading achievement and educational attainment. Even new studies of scholarship programs initially deemed poor-performing, released this summer after PEFNC’s research review was completed, confirm a trajectory of progress over time. For example, after several years scholarship-students in Louisiana and Indiana reversed earlier learning losses.

Finally, PEFNC’s paper highlights a framework for an “apples-to-apples” comparison of Opportunity Scholarship Program students and public school students—an assessment that does not require state tests. An early comparison of scholarship and public school students from similar backgrounds, using the same nationally standardized test, is already underway; independent researchers are expected to release results this fall. This initial study, though not an exhaustive assessment, nonetheless offers a template for future equitable evaluations.

“We’ve long believed that accountability for the Opportunity Scholarship Program would require an assessment comparing scholarship recipients to their peers in public school. This evaluation does just that, while also providing critical qualitative feedback on the Program as well. It is essential to our organization that we all, as a coalition of K-12 stakeholders, work together for accountability in our state’s schools. It is our hope that by engaging in this process, we will lay a firm foundation for real and ongoing accountability in this Program,” added Allison.

In addition, a new task force established by state lawmakers in the 2017 Legislative Session budget will shape future testing and assessment parameters. As a standing member of this task force, PEFNC will work with the state’s diverse K-12 stakeholders, public and private alike, to study the evaluation of Opportunity Scholarship Program students and to set clear parameters for future test-based comparisons of scholarship students and public school students.

Contact: Brian Jodice | (919) 995-0741 | brian@pefnc.org


 PEFNC is a statewide organization that supports greater educational options through parental school choice, such as public charter schools and the Opportunity Scholarship Program. Our mission is to inform parents of the benefits of expanded options and empower them to exercise freedom in meeting their children’s needs, regardless of race, national origin, income or religion.