The New Orleans Times-Picayune
By Danielle Dreilinger
March 03, 2017
Louisiana parents interested in the school voucher program, which allows students from struggling public schools to attend participating private ones, had to sign up by Feb. 24. But they didn't have an important piece of information: the most recent academic results from schools that accept vouchers.
The Louisiana Department of Education sent the 2016 Louisiana Scholarship Program performance scores to NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune more than three months later than usual -- on the voucher registration deadline.
Those scores synthesize test results and graduation rates to give a complete picture of how effectively private schools have educated their taxpayer-funded voucher students. Usually they are released with their public school equivalents, which came out in November.
Spokeswoman Sydni Dunn atrributed the difference to "a delay in the data verification process." She noted that the department was two months early on submitting its annual report to the Legislature, which it also did Feb. 24.
Now in its fifth year, the Louisiana Scholarship Program lets low-income students enroll in participating private schools at public expense if they are entering kindergarten or zoned for public schools graded C, D or F. It's the kind of program President Donald Trump is promoting Friday (March 3) as he visits his first school since taking office, and a signature initiative of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos.
Louisiana's long-awaited 2016 voucher data shows some improvement, to a level that is still very low.
Measured like a school district, the Louisiana Scholarship Program earned 61.4 on a 150-point scale, Dunn said. That would be a D on the state public school report card, and worse than any public school system except for those in St. Helena Parish, Morehouse Parish and Bogalusa. No voucher program earned an A.
The individual school scores measure only the voucher students, who take state tests, and not the school as a whole. To protect students' privacy, results are not published for schools with low voucher enrollment.
Thirty percent of the schools big enough to be counted earned less than 50 points, the equivalent of an F. They currently enroll about 15 percent of this year's 6,695 voucher students. That's according to fall 2016 figures.
New Orleans voucher programs skewed lower than their peers in the public Recovery School District, which serves mostly low-income children, according to NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune calculations.
Despite the storied history of St. Katharine Drexel Prep and St. Augustine Senior High, their voucher programs performed worse than any New Orleans public school except for some alternative campuses.
The state barred 17 of 122 schools from taking new voucher students due to poor academic performance, Dunn said. They include St. Augustine Junior and Senior High, Drexel Prep, Bishop McManus, Life of Christ Christian Academy/Alternative and Light City Christian Academy in New Orleans. All may keep the voucher students they currently have.
For Drexel Prep and Light City, it was the second year of sanctions; for St. Aug Junior High, the third.
However, the programs look better when compared to 2015, when 40 percent of schools measured failed. The overall program score rose from 59 in 2015 and 54.3 in 2014, Dunn said. About three-quarters of schools met expectations in 2016, up from two-thirds the year before.
Voucher students have narrowed their achievement gap with the state average by 11 points in English and 12 in math over four years. Locally, Riverside Academy in Reserve and St. Paul Lutheran in New Orleans posted significant gains.
Tim Daly, co-founder of the EdNavigator parent advocacy group, acknowledged the uptick at some schools, noting "absolute levels of performance have a ways to go," he said.
It could be a chicken-and-egg problem, he said: "Higher-performing schools, which therefore may have high demand, probably aren't signing up to accept vouchers."
Also, private schools are not allowed to screen voucher applicants, and the state caps the tuition it will cover.
Tulane University researcher Doug Harris agreed that the schools were improving. He wondered whether it was because teachers were learning to better educate voucher students or because enrollment fell at subpar institutions.
When the voucher program began, critics questioned whether private schools had the experience and training to help students who were behind or disadvantaged in some way, especially as these schools usually have low special education enrollment.
Harris' team at the Education Research Alliance for New Orleans published a study last year showing students actually backslid when they took vouchers, "moving to worse schools" than the public schools they left. He is currently working on an update.
That all said, parents don't seem to give much weight to these numbers. After all, private schools rarely report test results; families paying tuition make their choices based on tradition, what they see in the classroom and academic outcomes such as which high schools and colleges graduates attend.
The research alliance found families tended to prefer New Orleans voucher schools over public even when the scores were no better, Harris said. Almost all of about 1,150 parents who replied to a Louisiana Federation for Children survey last year said they were happy with their child's progress. DeVos helped found the federation.
It remains to be seen whether the results will influence Louisiana lawmakers as they prepare the upcoming budget. The Legislature approved enough funding last year in spite of the low scores to keep voucher enrollment steady, though not enough for all the families who wanted to join. Lawmakers have been hesitant to pull kids from their classrooms, and officials have noted the state would likely still have to pay for those children to attend public school.
Metro New Orleans Voucher Performance Scores, 2016
School 2016 Change from 2015
- St. Benedict the Moor 90.5 -15.8
- Our Lady of Prompt Succor School (St. Bernard) 84.4 N/A
- Good Shepherd Nativity Mission School 80.2 11.1
- McMillian's FIRST Steps CDC/Academy 76.8 -1.2
- Lutheran High School 75.7 9.9
- St. Leo the Great School 75.5 -3.5
- Resurrection of Our Lord School 71.9 -0.8
- St. John Lutheran School 70.3 N/A
- Boutte Christian Academy 69.5 N/A
- Riverside Academy 66.9 22.1
- St. Anthony School 65.5 -6.3
- Ascension of Our Lord School 64.2 1.7
- St. Peter Claver School 63.4 1
- St. Stephen School 60.9 11
- St. Joan of Arc School (New Orleans) 60 7.8
- St. Rita School 59.8 6.7
- St. Alphonsus School 59.6 -2.4
- St. Paul Lutheran School 55.7 14.9
- Our Lady of Prompt Succor School (Jefferson) 55.6 -15.4
- St. Mary's Academy 53 -6.7
- St. Augustine Jr. High School 49.4 1
- Bishop McManus School 48.7 -19.6
- Our Lady of Perpetual Help School 48.3 3.4
- St. Joan of Arc School (St. John the Baptist) 48.2 N/A
- St. Katharine Drexel Preparatory School 31.3 -8.6
- St. Augustine Senior High School 27.8 -15.2
Source: Louisiana Department of Education. Schools with no 2015 data may be new to the program or may have had too few students to report scores.
Download the data in Excel.