Friedman: Competition drives innovation

Competition from charter and private schools is the key to transforming education, concludes Pursuing Innovation, a new report from the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice.

District school students make achievement gains when their schools are competing with charters or private schools that accept school vouchers and tax-credit scholarships, according to 30 of 42 studies analyzed.
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MPCPMPSACTMost educational choice programs result in “modest improvements” at district schools, the report found.

However, in Florida (tax-credit scholarships) and Milwaukee (vouchers), “significant increases in publicly funded educational options resulted in bigger increases in public school students’ achievement.”

Despite significant improvement in Milwaukee’s district schools, the city’s choice students outperform Milwaukee Public Schools students in math and, especially, in English Language Arts. On Wisconsin’s statewide “Badger” tests, choice students did better than similar students in district schools.

“Empowering parents with the ability to choose a school that best suits the child’s needs is working in Wisconsin and resulting in students performing better academically,’ said Betsy DeVos, chairman of the American Federation for Children.

Catholic schools change to survive

Hard hit by demographic changes and competition from charter schools, Catholic schools are trying new strategies to survive, while remaining true to their religious mission, write Kelly Robson and Andy Smarick in Education Next.

A Cristo Rey student works at a medical center in Baltimore. Photo: Cristo Rey

A Cristo Rey student works at a medical center in Baltimore. Photo: Cristo Rey

Urban Catholic school students – especially those from low-income, minority families — “are more likely to graduate from high school, attend college, earn higher wages, and engage in pro-social behaviors like voting and volunteerism,” they write.

At its mid-1960s peak, Catholic schools educated 5.6 million students in approximately 13,000 schools, they write. That’s down to  fewer than 2 million students in 6,500 Catholic schools. Many urban schools have closed.

Now, school consortia are helping Catholic schools tackle common problems and achieve economies of scale.

Private school management organizations, nonprofits that manage a set of schools, also provide economies of scale and educational expertise.

Girls at Lourdes Academy, a Notre Dame ACE Academy . Photo: University of Notre Dame

Girls at Lourdes Academy, a Notre Dame ACE Academy . Photo: University of Notre Dame

Technology is helping boost engagement — and achievement — while reducing costs. Seton Education Partners is helping Catholic schools use blended learning effectively.

Another cost-saving model known as “micro-schooling” splits “students’ time between classroom, home, and online learning,” write Robson and Smarick.

In addition, voucher programs, tax-credit scholarships, and education savings accounts are helping lower-income parents afford a Catholic education for their children.

Choice raises graduation rates

 Vouchers, charters,  lotteries and small schools of choice have been shown to increase high school graduation rates without raising costs, according to Fourteen Economic Facts on Education and Economic Opportunity from Brookings’ Hamilton Project.

Also effective — but not cost free — are “double-dose algebra” in ninth grade, an intensive mentoring pilot and increased funding.

“Many urban charter schools are able to significantly improve test scores in math and English in one year,” the report found.

Minority kids advance in choice schools

Urban minority students are more likely to complete high school aand enroll in college if they attend a charter or voucher-accepting school, writes Martin West in Education Next. Test scores may not be higher in urban schools of choice, but students go farther in school — and often in life.
Boston’s charter middle school students are closing the achievement gap in math, one study has found.

In Boston and New York City, other studies have found charter students are likely to avoid teenage pregnancy and incarceration and more likely to enroll in four-year colleges rather than two-year options.

In Washington, D.C., voucher usage greatly improved students’ chances of graduating. New York City voucher students are more likely to enroll in college and earn a bachelor’s degree than a control group.

“The chief beneficiaries of policies that expand parental choice appear to be urban minority students,” says West. “The benefits of school choice for these students extend beyond what tests can measure.”

Study: Louisiana voucher students do worse

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Voucher students couldn’t stem declining enrollment at Our Lady of Grace School, which was closed by the Archdiocese of New Orleans last year. Photo: Brett Duke, Times-Picayune

Voucher students who left a low-performing Louisiana school for a private school did worse academically — especially in math — than classmates who stayed, concludes a new working paper on the first year of the Lousiana Scholarship Program.

Younger children did the worst, according to the team of Berkeley, Duke and MIT researchers.

Catholic schools serving black students — most with declining enrollment — signed up most of the voucher students. “Struggling private schools may opt in to the voucher program to combat stagnating enrollment,” the researchers noted.

One third of voucher students attend low-performing private schools that “have been barred from taking new voucher students,” reported the Times-Picayune last year.

It could be a short-term effect, but “the size of the negative math impact is pretty large,” Patrick Wolf, a University of Arkansas education professor told the Times-Picayune. Wolf’s two-year study of the voucher program will be published soon. “The results are different in interesting ways,” he said.

Louisiana’s voucher program, which is the fifth-largest in the country, provides about 6,700 students with about $5,300 per student. Only students from families with incomes below 250 percent of the federal poverty line – meaning $60,625 for a family of four, for example – and those whose public school has been labeled by the state as low-performing qualify for the voucher.

“A broader set of evidence” shows positive effects for vouchers, said Wolf. He cited a 2012 evaluation of the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program which found higher high school graduation and college enrollment rates.

Is it OK to push out disruptive kids?

“I have no problem at all with charters functioning as a poor man’s private school,” Fordham’s Robert Pondiscio tells Reason. “Are we saying that if you’re a poor black or brown kid, it’s a problem that you should have a disruption-free, studious, high-quality school? Why is that unfair?”

A group of parents have filed a a civil rights complaint accusing high-scoring Success Academy charters of pushing out students with disabilities.

One Success Academy principal issued a “Got-to-Go” list of unwanted students, reported the New York Times in October. Founder Eva Moskowitz called it a mistake.

In response to the complaint, she said Success schools only suspend students for violent behavior. The schools’ disabled students perform better in reading and math than non-disabled students in other city schools, she points out.

Success Academy students who behave well enough to stay are doing much, much better than similar students in district schools. Should Success be forced to adopt laxer discipline policies and keep disruptive students? Should district schools be allowed to adopt tougher discipline policies and get rid of disruptive students?

Milwaukee’s voucher program also was accused of discriminating against disabled students. After four years, the federal investigation has been closed “with no apparent findings of major wrongdoing,” reports the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel.

Nevada OKs vouchers for all

Starting next school year, Nevada parents will be able to use public funds to pay for private or parochial school, an online learning program or the costs of homeschooling, reports the Washington Post. Low-income families or students with disabilities can receive $5,700 per year, what the state spends per student. More affluent families will receive about $5,100 a year.

Including local and federal funding, Nevada public schools received an average of $8,339 per student in 2013, well below the national average of $10,700.

Parents, teachers and students wore yellow scarves to rally for school choice in Carson City, Nevada.

Parents, teachers and students wore yellow scarves to rally for school choice proposals in Carson City, Nevada.

Under the new law, children must be enrolled in a public school for at least 100 days before they can use the money, which will be held in an Education Savings Account.

Choice advocates are pushing the idea in Georgia, Iowa and Rhode Island.

Since 2006, 27 states have opted for vouchers, tax credits for donations to scholarship funds or education savings accounts, notes the Post. Most programs are limited to low-income or disabled students.

Earlier this year, the Nevada legislature approved tax credits to businesses that donate money to a scholarship fund to help low-income students attend private schools.

The Friedman Foundation, which backs the Nevada plan, identified a Las Vegas parent who hopes to use the new vouchers.

Aurora Espinoza, a single mother who works as a solar-panel sales representative, said her children’s current public schools — which are among the nation’s fastest-growing — are so crowded that it’s hard for them to learn.

She hopes to enroll her daughters in a private school next year.

 

Cuomo sets union-unfriendly agenda

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo “has declared war on the public schools,” charges Karen E. Magee, president of the state teachers’ union.

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo delivers his 2015 State of the State speech.

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo delivers his 2015 State of the State speech.

The Democratic governor thinks too hard to fire underperforming teachers, wants to raise or eliminate the limit on charter schools and backs a tax credit for people and companies donating money to public schools and private school scholarships, reports the New York Times.

Chester Finn calls Gov. Cuomo’s education agenda “awesome (and radically union-unfriendly).”

“Its single boldest and most surprising item is the governor’s endorsement of a tax-credit scholarship program so that more young New Yorkers can afford to attend private schools,” writes Finn. That makes Cuomo “the first Democratic governor ever to propose a program of private-school choice for kids and families in his state.”

Study links voucher use to college success

A privately funded New York City voucher program improved the lives of the low-income, minority students who attended a private elementary school, according to a new study by Matthew M. Chingos of the Brookings Institution and Paul E. Peterson of the Harvard Kennedy School.

Voucher users were more likely to go to college and earn a bachelor’s degree, concluded the study, which is set for publication in the Journal of Public Economics. 

Students who received vouchers in 1997 were compared to a randomly selected group who applied for vouchers but lost the lottery.

Immigrant students did no better with a voucher, compared to the control group. However, U.S.-born students who used a voucher were 18 percent more likely to enroll in college and 61 percent more likely to obtain a bachelor’s degree.

From black power to school reform

In Back to School Book Report, Jeanne Allen reviews two new books on the history of education reform.

Mary C. Bounds’ A Light Shines in Harlem begins in New York in 1999 as the state’s charter school law is being debated.

The “light” is the Sisulu-Walker Charter School, New York City’s first charter.  Wyatt T. Walker, former chief of staff to Martin Luther King, co-founded the school with help from Steve Klinsky, a “Wall Street investor-turned charter school crusader who recognized that without educational excellence, civil rights is a hollow term,” writes Allen.

The book “tracks the tenacity and heroism of a few of the reform movement’s earliest and lesser known pioneers.”

In No Struggle, No Progress, Howard Fuller reminds us “what it really means to be in a country that offers opportunity — but not without struggle,” writes Allen.

Raised in a strong, though fatherless, family in Milwaukee, Fuller attended Catholic schools that held him to high expectations.

As a student activist, he crusaded for black power. He led “a new movement of real equity and justice for kids that unites people across all the traditional dividing lines,” writes Allen.

A critic of Milwaukee Public Schools, Fuller became the superintendent in 1991-1995 and a leading advocate of charter schools and voucher programs, writes Alan Borsuk in the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel.

“What has been constant for Fuller has been burning desire, especially when it comes to African-American kids, to see a lot more students succeed.”

Fuller runs the Institute for the Transformation of Learning at Marquette, where he’s also an education professor.