Society and Culture, Education, Pethokoukis

What Politico’s story on school choice failed to mention

Image Credit: shutterstock

Image Credit: shutterstock

Give Politico some credit for writing about something other than the partial government shutdown and impending debt ceiling crisis. But its new piece on school vouchers creates an incomplete picture about the efficacy of school choice. Here is reporter Stephanie Simon’s nut graph:

Taxpayers across the U.S. will soon be spending $1 billion a year to help families pay private school tuition — and there’s little evidence that the investment yields academic gains.

I asked AEI’s Michael McShane to help me give a more complete picture than the one Simon painted. A few observations from McShane:

1. There is almost no discussion of cost in the piece. Getting the same results (or slightly better) at around half the cost—the level at which most voucher programs are funded— is a big deal.

2. I don’t know what advocates only talk about two studies (DC and NYC) when making the case for private school choice.  Advocates (like the Friedman Foundation) generally like to say that 12 out of 13 gold-standard, randomized studies have found positive academic results for some or all students participating.  Now, the gains haven’t been huge, but the pattern has been consistent.

3. The recurring trope that “voucher schools don’t participate in accountability programs” is curious on two counts. First, the three largest programs (Milwaukee, Indiana, and Louisiana) all have schools participate in accountability systems. Schools can lose the ability to accept voucher students for poor performance.  Second, many of these same folks decry the fact that accountability systems are “inaccurate” or “unfair” and yet say that voucher schools should have to participate in them. If they’re bad, try and get schools out of them, not put more in.

4. There is lots of other research on civic outcomes like voting, voluntarism, and tolerance, and all of it shows positive results for students participating in voucher programs, as well as rigorous studies of the results of voucher programs on students left behind in public schools.  Totally not mentioned in the piece.

Many veterans of education reform are dubious that any one amazing idea will “fix” US education. Certainly school choice has not shown itself to be a magic bullet. So should reformers give up on trying to inject market forces into the education system? Not at all. While current school choice programs have enabled more kids to find slots in existing schools, McShane has previously written, they have done a poor jobs at encouraging a) good schools to expand or b) the creation of new high-quality schools. It’s tough to have creative destruction when there is no creation. McShane:

Private-school choice will drive positive change only when it creates high-quality private schools within urban communities. New schools and school models need to be incubated, funding needs to follow students in a way that allows for non-traditional providers to play a role, new pathways into classrooms for private-school teachers and leaders need to be created, and high-quality school models need to be encouraged and supported while they scale up. In short, policymakers, private philanthropy, and school leaders need to get serious about what’s necessary to make the market work.

6 thoughts on “What Politico’s story on school choice failed to mention

  1. you need one set of standards for all of them.

    the hit on voucher schools is whether or not they are going to deal with the at-risk, disadvantaged and Title 1 kids with equivalent accountability.

    Title 1 teachers, specialists in reading, writing and math learning problems do not come cheap – and teachers on the cheap are not going to have the necessary skills to deal with those demographics – and that is a big problem in urban schools because 2/3 or more of those schools have disadvantaged kids that ARE HARDER to teach and typically the urban schools are unable to attract the quality of teacher necessary to teach those kids.

    An honest question is to ask the voucher schools how they intend to deal with that demographic – AND ,.HOW we will know if they are succeeding or failing at it.

    and if voucher schools fail at that Demographic, what next?

    back to the failed public school?

    what is the plan?

    we have no plan.

    the plan is to push the kids to vouchers and hope it works and if it does not – there is no plan.

    I’m in favor of alternatives – competitive alternatives – not only in price but in performance but cheaper schools with even crappier performance – that we hide by crappy accountability is no bargain.

    make the rule – all follow the same accountability rules – period.

    • The “PLAN” is to NOT keep on with the same loosing plan.
      The “PLAN is that if half the kids voucher-ed out of public schools The public school would still be left with the extra half the money ( that does not go to the voucher student) to better help the “at need” students and less pupils for staff to help.
      Why should voucher schools deal with these students at all? You seem happy with the public solution, so more money for the remaining students in public schools must solve all problems ,as the educational establishment has been crying for decades that ALL THAT IS WRONG IS NOT ENOUGH FUNDING.
      Half the cost , equal or better results, more money left for public schools, parent choice….WHAT IS THERE NOT TO LIKE ABOUT VOUCHERS IF YOU ACTUALLY CARE ABOUT EDUCATION!!!!!!

      • re:

        ” The “PLAN” is to NOT keep on with the same loosing plan.
        The “PLAN is that if half the kids voucher-ed out of public schools The public school would still be left with the extra half the money ( that does not go to the voucher student) to better help the “at need” students and less pupils for staff to help.”

        if you take half the money – does it end up cutting half the staff? How do you get “better” for at-risk from that?
        Teachers that specialize in at-risk are MORE expensive not less.

        “Why should voucher schools deal with these students at all?”

        because they claim to do a BETTER job for LESS money than public schools – who DO have the job of teaching all students. The voucher schools want to cherry-pick the easiest students for the same money, right?

        But what makes you think that even not having the at-risk kids, the voucher schools would do better?

        Have you seen what for-profit schools do for our military with their GI benefits? They take the money and the soldiers get crappy educations… that’s the way for-profit works.

        ” You seem happy with the public solution, so more money for the remaining students in public schools must solve all problems ,as the educational establishment has been crying for decades that ALL THAT IS WRONG IS NOT ENOUGH FUNDING.”

        I’m HAPPY with the WAY that all 30+ OECD Public Schools do – all of them better than us.

        THe “funding” problem that we have is because we fund much more than just core academics.. we spend money on all sorts of non-core things in our public schools – amenity courses… sports, extracurricular, etc at the same time we try to teach core academics on the cheap.

        OECD does not do this – they focus pretty much on core academics and if parents want “more and better” for their kids, they pay for private out of pocket.

        Same thing in this country with private schools for the most part.

        If you want to “full-feature: school in this country, it’s not going to be a private or voucher school.

        If you want to cherry-pick the better kids from the public schools and leave the disadvantaged then we should pare the public schools down to core-academic ONLY and then let parents decide what they want to pay extra for.

        “Half the cost , equal or better results, more money left for public schools, parent choice….WHAT IS THERE NOT TO LIKE ABOUT VOUCHERS IF YOU ACTUALLY CARE ABOUT EDUCATION!!!!!!”

        see above.

        advocating voucher schools without advocating academic performance standards and accountability is dumb but if that’s what you want – then go for it.

        ALL the OECD countries – Europe, Asia, Australia, NZ, etc have RIGOROUS academic standards and we do not – and that’s why we rank 25th in the world …..

        the truth hurts. The question is – are we really SERIOUS about actually fixing the problem or are we taking the sound-bite approach with the “magic” of voucher schools?

        the logic seems to be : our public schools are not good
        so let’s abandon them and do voucher schools

        what makes you believe that’s better? what is your Plan if it turns out to be not better or actually worse?

        then what do you do?

  2. After the teacher closes the door and calls the class to order, there is only one person in the world who can make a difference in that room. One suspects that today’s charter school could have its choice of college grads and frustrated journeymen teachers, IMO, that privatized schools don’t do much better than public schools shows how little value we attach to teaching as a profession,

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