Vouchers for disabled students

Special education vouchers would enable parents of disabled students to shop for the services their child needs, writes Jay P. Greene in City Journal. Currently, parents have to deal with a system that promises services but often fails to deliver.  Some become aggressive advocates for their children; most accept what they get.

Every student identified as disabled could get a voucher worth no more money than the public schools would spend to educate that child (with more severely disabled students receiving more generous vouchers). Students could then use the vouchers to attend private school if they wanted. No one would have to use the vouchers, and students choosing to remain in public schools would retain all the rights they already have there. Disabled students would simply gain a mechanism — a market mechanism — to help them make their rights a reality.

Vouchers could save money, since private schools tend to be cheaper than public schools.

In Florida, for instance, where a special-ed voucher program is already operating, the average cost of a voucher for disabled students is $7,206—far below what taxpayers spend for the average special-ed student in public school.

Second, vouchers reduce the public schools’ tendency to move ever more students into special education, including many who aren’t in fact disabled but are disruptive or just struggling academically. . . .  schools may think twice about overidentifying disabilities for financial reasons if, every time they do so, they risk losing students and all their funding to private schools.

“Florida public schools have indeed become somewhat more reluctant to classify students as disabled with the increased availability of vouchers,” writes Greene, who studied the Florida system with Marcus Winters. The found Florida students are more likely to receive appropriate services in private schools and are less likely to be bullied.

The voucher program serves a representative distribution of disabled students, so that students with more severe disabilities, as well as students from low-income or minority backgrounds, can find what they need in private schools, just as their more advantaged counterparts can. . . . Finally, the public schools feel some competitive pressure to improve their own services for disabled students, even as they become more restrained in categorizing students as disabled. In fact, Winters and I found that achievement levels for disabled students remaining in the public schools improved significantly when those students had more options to leave.

Georgia, Ohio and Utah are using special-ed vouchers as well.

Vouchers for low-income students also could save inner-city Catholic schools, which offer an alternative to black and Hispanic students, writes Patrick J. McCloskey, author of The Street Stops Here. These schools have been closing, unable to cover their costs with donations or tuition.

(Vouchers) save money, too, since the public school system spends about $20,000 annually on each student, while the Catholic schools achieve their superior results for about $5,500 per urban elementary school student and $8,500 per high schooler. (An adequate voucher would cost slightly more, say $6,500 for elementary school and $9,500 for high school students, to include funding for remedial education for many current public schoolers.)

Of course,  teachers’ unions would fight hard against vouchers.

Stimulus doubles teacher pay

Fayetteville, Arkansas is using stimulus dollars to double the pay of teachers in a summer reading program, reports the Northwest Arkansas Times.

Teachers in this program that targets at-risk students who have completed kindergarten through second grades will bank $8,000 for 12 days of classroom instruction and three days of preparation at the school.

The money won’t save teacher jobs or offer a new program, points out Jay P. Greene.

The money is simply being used to pay teachers more for the same thing that they would have been doing anyway. The only thing that is “racing to the top” about this use of funds is teacher pay.

. . . that works out to paying Fayetteville teachers $76 per hour of scheduled work (excluding benefits) to do something that teachers in neighboring Springdale are doing for $25 per hour. And it is apparently double what the same Fayetteville teachers are normally paid.

Why not pay teachers more to offer more days of instruction?

Update: Most stimulus money is going to protect existing jobs and programs, writes Andy Smarick.  That’s no surprise.

The know-nothing party

To become a citizen, immigrants must answer six of 10 basic civics questions, such as: Who wrote the Declaration of Independence? What do we call the first 10 amendments to the Constitution? Who was the first president of the United States?  When the Goldwater Institute asked Arizona public high school students 10 random questions from the citizenship list, only 3.5 percent got six or more questions right, writes Matthew Ladner in a preview on Jay Greene’s blog. Half the students got only one question right.

Fifty-eight percent knew the Atlantic Ocean is off the east coast and half identified the two major political parties. However, only 29.5 percent identified the Constitution as the supreme law of the land, 25 percent identified the Bill of Rights as the first 10 amendments to the Constitution and 23 percent knew Congress was made up of the House and Senate. Only 9.4 percent said the Supreme Court has nine justices.  Thomas Jefferson was named as the writer of the Declaration of Independence by a quarter of students; 14.5 percent answered that Senators are elected for six-year terms and 26 percent knew the president runs the executive branch.
Finally, only 26.5% of students correctly identified George Washington was the first President. Other guesses included John F. Kennedy, Ronald Reagan, George Bush and Barack Obama.

Seniors did no better than freshmen. Ethnicity made little difference.

Profound ignorance is quite equally distributed in large measure across students in the public school system.

Arizona eighth graders are supposed to be taught everything needed to ace the civics test, Ladner writes. Charter students passed at twice the rate of students in district schools; private school students were four times more likely to pass. “Still pathetic,” he writes.

Here’s part one of Freedom From Responsibility.

Special-ed parents win in court

Parents of disabled students can seek reimbursement for private school tuition, even if their child didn’t receive special education services in public school, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled this week. The case involved an Oregon high school students in the Forest Grove district who was diagnosed as learning disabled only after he enrolled in private school.

If the public school can’t provide an appropriate education to a disabled students, parents have the right to seek a private placement at public expense. “Nationally, about 90,000 special-education students are in private schools, most of them referred by their public schools,” reports the New York Times.

Justice John Paul Stevens wrote the opinion for the 6-3 majority.

“It would be strange for the act to provide a remedy, as all agree it does, where a school district offers a child inadequate special-education services but to leave parents without relief in the more egregious situation in which the school district unreasonably denies a child access to such services altogether,” he wrote.

Why not extend choice to all parents, asks Jay P. Greene. “Why should any child, disabled or not, be made to wait for an appropriate education?”

Do vouchers matter?

School vouchers don’t matter in the larger policy debate, writes Kevin Carey of Education Sector in Chronicle of Higher Education. Washington, D.C.’s program didn’t “create new competition and provide incentives for innovators and entrepreneurs to bring energy and resources to the enterprise of educating students.”

No new schools have been built as a result, no groundbreaking programs created, competition spurred, or innovators attracted. It’s basically just an exercise in seeing what happens when you take a couple thousand students out of pretty bad schools and put them in a range of other schools that are, collectively, somewhat better. Answer: some of the students may be doing somewhat better! I think we already knew this.

Remarkably, the D.C. voucher program is being taken seriously even as, right here in the same city, charter schools are actually creating the whole range of market responses that vouchers are not.

A better education for 1,700 low-income students is nothing to sneer at, counters Jay P. Greene.

While Carey doubts 17,000 vouchers would have motivated Sidwell Friends and Georgetown Day to “up and build annexes in Anacostia,”  Greene responds that most voucher students attend non-elite private schools that might expand “if you offered them 10 times as many spots and long-term security of funding.” And D.C. charter schools wouldn’t be offering much competition if they’d been limited to 1,700 students and one third the district’s per-student funding.

Reason TV has video of the D.C. school voucher rally, which pushed President Obama to announce that currently enrolled students will continue to receive vouchers through high school. No new students will be allowed to enter the program.

Killing a program that works

School Reform Means Doing What’s Best for Kids, writes Education Secretary Arne Duncan in the Wall Street Journal.

We need solid, unimpeachable information that identifies what’s working and what’s not working in our schools.

The Obama administration will fund “what works,” he writes.  They’ll follow the data where ever it leads.

Unless vouchers, bane of the teachers’ unions, are involved. writes George Will.   After Democrats voted to effectively defund Washington, D.C.’s voucher program, Duncan’s Education Department tried to bury the release of a “congressionally mandated study showing that, measured by student improvement and parental satisfaction, the District’s program works,” Will charges.

The department could not suppress the Heritage Foundation’s report that 38 percent of members of Congress sent or are sending their children to private schools.

The Senate voted 58 to 39 to kill the program. Heritage reports that if the senators who have exercised their ability to choose private schools had voted to continue the program that allows less-privileged parents to make that choice for their children, the program would have been preserved.

The Washington Post editorially piles on Duncan, who admits he moved to Arlington, Virginia because he didn’t want to “jeopardize my own children’s education.”

Jay P. Greene wraps up the criticism of Duncan and the Dems.

Unions kill vouchers, go after charters

Teachers’ unions have declared war on charter schools, writes Jay P. Greene in the Wall Street Journal. The unions are fighting on two fronts:  While seeking to deny charter funding, they’re also trying to unionize charter teachers.

Studies have shown students who win charter school lotteries do better than those who seek a charter education, lose the lottery to get in and have to attend district-run schools, Greene writes.  A study by Harvard economist Tom Kane also looked at Boston’s district-run, unionized charters, known as “pilot schools.”

. . . students accepted by lottery at independently operated charter schools significantly outperformed students who lost the lottery and returned to district schools. But students accepted by lottery at charters run by the school district with unionized teachers experienced no benefit.

When charter schools unionize, they become identical to traditional public schools in performance. Unions may say they support charter schools, but they only support charters after they have stripped them of everything that makes charters different from district schools.

“Vouchers made the world safe for charters by drawing union fire,” Greene writes. Now that the unions have beaten back vouchers — pressuring congressional Democrats to defund the successful and popular voucher program in Washington, D.C. –  they can unionize, regulate and starve the charter schools.

The American Federation of Teachers is working hard to unionize three Chicago charter schools run by a non-profit, notes This Week in Education.

Marcus Winters writes on KIPP vs. the Teachers’ Unions on City Journal.