Monday, February 6, 2012

No Evidence for Voucher Choice

The heart of Governor Jindal's education reform package this legislative session will be a proposal that any low income family whose children attend a "C" or lower rated public school could receive a "scholarship" to attend a private or parochial school instead of his or her public school. The governor makes the claim that parents are the best judges of the best school for their child. To drive his point home the governor made a big indignant fuss over a statement by LAE Executive Director, Michael Walker-Jones that some low income parents may not have a clue as to which school is actually better for their child. Here's why Walker-Jones is correct and the Governor is guilty of misleading demagoguery on this issue:

So far the only accepted measure of a successful school has been the School Performance Score which is based primarily on student performance on state tests and which has been used quite arbitrarily by BESE to assign letter grades to schools. At the same time, no such data has been collected on private and parochial schools because these students are not tested by the state. So the governor and his supporters use state test scores to rate some public schools as unacceptable, so that parents can receive "scholarships" to switch their children to private schools, yet there is no such data on the private schools. The parents really don't have a clue based on the data used by the state to rate the private schools as good or bad.

There is however a small amount of data that has been collected on students in the New Orleans area where the public to private "scholarships" have been allowed for several years. This linked article from the Times-Picayune does a good job of analyzing the results of such limited public to private vouchers to date. The author also presents data from other systems such as the Milwaukee school system which have more extensive data on such programs. The title of the article makes it clear that the Governor has no legitimate justification to unleash this destruction of our Louisiana public education system. But just as he proposes to privatize the state group benefits health insurance program with absolutely no evidence of improved value for taxpayers, he is doing the same to the education of our children.

Do I think the Governor's vouchers will produce an immediate mass exodus of public school students to private and parochial schools? Absolutely not! The existing private and parochial schools do not have the capacity or the willingness to take on public school students en mass. That's not the danger. The problem is private schools are by their nature "exclusive". They will definitely take on some students but they will systematically exclude the lowest performers, the discipline problems, and the special needs students. In many cases, parents will not be the ones choosing schools for their children. The administrators of the private schools will be doing the choosing.

But there is another more destructive trend that will grow with time. When it becomes clear that there is money to be made by capturing public school students, new private schools are sure to spring up. If such schools are not carefully regulated by those entrusted to guard our taxpayer dollars, we cannot even imagine how many ways our taxes can be wasted and we cannot yet estimate how many students will be harmed. We see many abuses already in some of the semiprivate charter schools that have sprung up to handle takeover schools. The state has done a poor job of monitoring such schools and there is much evidence of artificially inflated school performance scores, huge salaries paid to administrators, unreported child abuse cases, and on and on. How will our state department possibly monitor dozens of new schools that are totally private. Yet the governor proposes to hand over millions of our tax dollars to these unregulated untested programs.

It is quite ironic that the public schools that have been micromanaged by the state for years will now be damaged and weakened in favor of profit making schools that have almost no safeguards for the taxpayers or parents. The LAE Exec. Walker-Jones is right. Many parents who are being used to support this scheme don't have a clue!