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The Charlotte Observer.

Private school lottery winners score higher: Poor children subsidized by fund
August 31, 2000

By Celeste Smith

Students attending private schools through a Charlotte-based scholarship program are happier with their schools and fared better on a standardized exam than their public school peers, according to a study released Wednesday.

But one area education leader said the private school group's performance on the exam might not be all that different from how the public school group fared.

The study focuses on students in the Children's Scholarship Fund-Charlotte, which provides up to $1,700 for students from low-income families to use in private schools. The scholarship fund advocates providing more families with school choice and offering low-income families the chance for private school.

The partial scholarships were awarded for the first time to 543 students to use in the 1999-00 school year. About 6,100 students entered the lottery.

The study, conducted by the Manhattan Institute for Policy Research, involved 452 students from two groups of applicants.

The first, with about 205 students, won scholarships in the lottery and attended private schools. The second group, which had about 247 students, were in the lottery and either failed to get a scholarship or won one but had to give it back. Most still couldn't afford the private school tab. Children in this group were in public schools.

All students were in grades 2 through 8.

Both groups sat for the Iowa Test of Basic Skills, a standardized exam in reading and math.

The families of both groups also filled out school satisfaction surveys. The exam results showed the private school students scored higher than the public school students in math and reading.

Both groups still performed below grade level on the exam. The private school students placed in a percentile in the high 30s and the public school students in a percentile in the low 30s - meaning more than 60 percent of students in the nation taking the same exam outperformed both groups.

But the higher performance of the private school group is "large and significant," said Jay Greene, a Manhattan Institute senior fellow.

"They're still behind, but the gap has closed," he said. "I wouldn't necessarily expect this kind of gain every year, but this kind of gain is fairly large."

The survey results showed the private school group was more satisfied with their schools than the public school group.

Greene said family surveys rated private schools as having the same resources as their public school counterparts. But more parents of the private school students reported high marks for school safety and teacher motivation, which may explain their children's stronger performance, Greene said.

Nora Carr, spokeswoman for the Charlotte-Mecklenburg school district, said district officials couldn't comment on a study they haven't reviewed.

But she said any study of this type would raise some questions that could undermine its validity, including "research design, who commissioned the study, how the students were identified, what the incentives were, (and) how the tests align with our curriculum and testing standards."

An area education leader not involved in the study said a 5 to 6 point difference on a standardized exam may not be statistically significant.

Standardized exams generally have a standard error of measurement of plus or minus 3 points, according to Mary Lynne Calhoun, UNCCharlotte's dean of the College of Education.

The Charlotte Scholarship Fund is part of a national network that has provided money to help 40,000 students attend private schools. Last year, the Charlotte group placed more than 530 children in 67 private or parochial schools.

©2000 The Charlotte Observer


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