Do vouchers help students succeed?

Vouchers don’t do much for students, argues Stephanie Simon on Politico. Voucher programs now cost $1 billion nationwide.

In Milwaukee, just 13 percent of voucher students scored proficient in math and 11 percent made the bar in reading this spring. That’s worse on both counts than students in the city’s public schools. In Cleveland, voucher students in most grades performed worse than their peers in public schools in math, though they did better in reading.

In New Orleans, voucher students who struggle academically haven’t advanced to grade-level work any faster over the past two years than students in the public schools, many of which are rated D or F, state data show.

Vouchers improve student outcomes, according to high-quality research studies, responds Adam Emerson in Education Gadfly.

Consider, for instance, the work of Patrick Wolf at the University of Arkansas, who has examined the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship and found that it led to improved reading achievement among participants while also increasing a student’s chance of graduating high school by 21 percentage points. Consider, too, that random-assignment studies of privately funded voucher programs in New YorkDayton and Charlotte found higher achievement levels on standardized tests or higher college-going rates, or both, particularly for black students. Other empirical studies led to findings that range from the positive competitive effects vouchers have on public schools to the heightened level of achievement that comes from greater accountability (this last comes from Milwaukee, where Simon noted that snapshot test scores of voucher students look poorly but where a longitudinal analysis of the voucher program reports more positive results).

But a single literature review from Greg Forster at the Friedman Foundation is perhaps most revealing: eleven of twelve random-assignment studies have showed improved academic outcomes of students who participated in voucher programs. The one study that didn’t found no visible impact on students one way or the other.

Research supports voucher benefits, agrees Rick Hess. He quotes himself, and eight others, in an Education Week commentary last year:

Among voucher programs, random-assignment studies generally find modest improvements in reading or math scores, or both. Achievement gains are typically small in each year, but cumulative over time. Graduation rates have been studied less often, but the available evidence indicates a substantial positive impact. None of these studies has found a negative impact. . . . Other research questions regarding voucher program participants have included student safety, parent satisfaction, racial integration, services for students with disabilities, and outcomes related to civic participation and values. Results from these studies are consistently positive.

That $1 billion for vouchers “amounts to less than one-fifth of one percent of K–12 spending,” Hess points out.  ”We spend north of $600 billion a year on K–12 schooling in the U.S., including tens of billions on employee health care and retirement benefits.”

Louisiana vouchers aid integration

The U.S. Justice Department is trying to block vouchers for low-income Louisiana students on the grounds transfers will increase segregation in 13 of the 34 districts under long-standing desegregation orders.

However, voucher transfers decrease segregation ”in the very districts that are the subject of the Department of Justice litigation,” according to a new study, reports the New Orleans Times-Picayune.

Louisiana Scholarship Program allow low-income students in C-, D- or F-graded public schools to enroll in participating private schools at taxpayer expense. Ninety percent of transfer students are black.

Looking at the state as a whole, voucher transfers did not affect the racial balance of the receiving private school, the study says. And in the districts under desegregation orders, voucher transfers improved integration both in the public schools the students left and in the private schools they entered.

“The statewide school voucher program appears to have brought greater integration to Louisiana’s public schools,” write Anna Egalite (great name!) and Jonathan Mills in Education Next.

Fix schools by not fixing schools

Fix Schools by Not Fixing Schools advises Jay P. Greene. Instead of trying to reform traditional public schools, go around them.

We can expand access to other educational options, including charter schools, voucher schools, tax-credit schools. ESAs, digital schooling, home-schooling, and hybrid schools.  We can also expand access to enriching non-school activities, like museums, theaters, historical sites, summer camps, and after-school programs.  Reformers should concentrate their energy on all of these non-traditional-school efforts and stop trying so hard to fix traditional public schools.

Traditional public schools don’t want to be fixed, writes Greene.

The people who make their living off of those schools have reasons for wanting schools to be as they are and have enormous political resources to fend off efforts to fundamentally change things.  Trying to impose reforms like merit pay, centralized systems of teacher evaluation, new standards, new curriculum, new pedagogy, etc… on unwilling schools is largely a futile exercise.  They have the political resources to block, dilute, or co-opt these efforts in most instances.

“Second, attempting to impose reforms on traditional public schools requires a significant increase in centralized political control,” Greene writes.  When traditionalists subvert “most reforms through poor implementation,” the centralization remains.

 Centralized reforms that can be adopted and implemented have to be watered-down enough to gain broad support for passage and implementation, rendering them mostly impotent.

. . . even if by some miracle an effective and appropriate centralized reform with bite is adopted and properly implemented, there is no natural political constituency to preserve the integrity of that reform over time.

Traditional public schools don’t resist the creation of alternatives “with the same ferocity that they oppose reforms that directly effect their daily working life,” Greene writes. Creating alternatives doesn’t require centralization or pleasing everyone. Successful alternatives build their own constituency.

 

AP vs. PDK vs. EdNext: Who ya gonna believe?

Three education polls came out this week from AP-NORC (for the Joyce Foundation), PDK/Gallup and Education Next. Who ya gonna believe?

Education Next‘s Paul Peterson analyzes why EdNext‘s poll differs from the PDK poll:

EdNext: “As you may know, all states are currently deciding whether or not to adopt the Common Core standards in reading and math. If adopted, these standards would be used to hold the state’s schools accountable for their performance. Do you support or oppose the adoption of the Common Core standards in your state?”

Public
Support 65%
Oppose 13
Neutral 23

PDK: “Do you believe Common Core State Standards would help make education in the United States more competitive globally, less competitive globally, or have no effect globally? (Asked only of those who have heard of the Common Core).”

Public
More competitive 41%
Less competitive 24
No effect 35
No opinion 3

While EdNext described Common Core, PDK asked people whether they knew the education “code words,” writes Peterson. The 38 percent who did — a small sample — were asked to predict the future, which people are reluctant to do. “In short, I believe that on this one PDK fished for the answer they wanted,” he concludes.

EdNext asked:How much trust and confidence do you have in public school teachers?,” while PDK asked: “Do you have trust and confidence in the men and women who are teaching children in the public schools?”

“Talking about the “men and women who are teaching children,” using evocative words such as “children” and hinting at that famous patriotic phrase—the “men and women who serve in our armed forces” encourages positive responses, writes Peterson.

Only 42 percent of the public have “a lot of” or “complete” trust and confidence in public school teachers in EdNext‘s poll, which gave four choices. “PDK forces people to say they do have confidence unless they have ‘no confidence’ in teachers, a polling strategy that will increase the proportion of positive responses.”

The two polls get similar responses on charter schools, but PDK finds a better than 2:1 split against vouchers, while EdNext says the public is divided. Again, PDK has loaded the question, writes Peterson.

The move to tie student test scores to teacher evaluation generates different answers on the AP-NORC PDK/Gallup polls, writes Steven Sawchuck on Teacher Beat.

In the AP poll, 53 percent of parents said changes in students’ statewide test scores should be used either “a great deal” or “quite a bit” in teachers’ evaluations compared with 20 percent who said “only a little” or “not at all.”

On the PDK/Gallup poll, 58 percent of adults surveyed opposed state requirements that teacher evaluations “include how well a teacher’s students perform on standardized tests.”

Why the differences?

  • AP frames the evaluation question in terms of changes in scores rather than performance on the tests.
  • AP does not reference a state requirement, as PDK does.
  • As colleague Lesli Maxwell points out, the PDK poll prefaced its questions by saying there had been “a significant increase in standardized testing.”

“Not surprisingly, folks on either side of the testing wars are embracing the poll that supports their viewpoint and condemning the other poll as biased or misleading in some way,” concludes Sawchuck.

Education Gadfly has more on the polling trifecta.

Poll: Public resists spending on schools, teachers

The public is becoming “more resistant to rising school expenditures and to raising teacher salaries,” according to Education Next‘s annual poll. However, “the public is also becoming increasingly skeptical of such reform proposals as performance pay and school vouchers.”

Half the sample was told the current per-pupil spending in their district before being asked if they favored more, less or the same funding; the other half wasn’t provided any information.

Among respondents not told actual spending levels, only 53 percent support higher funding, down 10 percentage points from the 63 percent who were supportive a year ago. Information about current spending decreases support for higher levels of spending. Among those told how much local schools currently spend, support for spending increases was 43 percent, the same as a year previously.

The average person estimated their local district spends ”$6,680 per pupil, hardly more than 50 percent of the average actual expenditure level of $12,637 per pupil in the districts where respondents live.”

 In 2013, 55 percent of respondents not informed of current pay levels favor increases in teacher pay, down from 64 percent taking that position a year ago. Meanwhile, only 37 percent of those informed of salary levels favor an increase, virtually the same as the 36 percent taking that position in 2012. Once again, we cannot attribute the change to better knowledge of actual salary levels, as average estimates of salary levels remain essentially unchanged at $36,428, about $20,000 below actual average salaries in the states where respondents live.

Support for performance pay remains at 49 percent, but “opposition to basing teacher salaries in part on student progress has grown from 27 percent to 39 percent over the past two years.”

Opposition to vouchers for all students increased from 29 percent in 2012 to 37 percent this year.

Fewer people were neutral about charter schools: support moved up from 43 to 51 percent, while opposition increased from 16 to 26 percent.

Nearly two-thirds of Americans support Common Core standards in their state,though opposition is growing, the survey found.

Common Core standards? What’s that?

Sixty-two percent of Americans haven’t heard of the new Common Core standards adopted in 45 states and the District of Columbia, according to the new Phi Delta Kappa/Gallup Poll. Of those who recognized the term, “most had major misconceptions about the standards and believed that they will have no effect or will make American students less competitive with their peers across the world,” reports the Washington Post.

As in previous polls, most gave the nation’s public schools a C grade,while rating their local school as an A or B.

Nearly 70 percent of Americans favor charter schools, up from less than 40 percent 11 years ago. However, support for vouchers hit an all-time low.

People were sharply split on closing underenrolled neighborhood schools to save money, a strategy that has made headlines recently in cities including Washington, Chicago and Philadelphia. Half of all respondents opposed such a policy; opposition was higher among those who were not white.

As lawmakers struggle to reach a compromise on comprehensive immigration reform, more than half of the poll’s respondents — 55 percent — said they opposed providing free public education to children of people who are in the country illegally.

The majority of those polled believe that testing hasn’t improved public school performance; nearly 60 percent opposed using test scores to evaluate teachers.

That contradicts a new poll for the Joyce Foundation by Associated Press and NORC, which found that 60 percent of parents support using standardized test scores to evaluate teachers. The AP-NORC poll also found that most parents think standardized tests are an effective measure of their children’s performance and school quality, reports the Post.

Support for homeschooling is strong: Most say homeschooled students should be allowed to attend public school part-time and participate in athletics.

What do parents really want?

Seventy-seven percent of parents “choose strong neighborhood public schools over expanding choice, charters and vouchers, concludes a survey by the American Federation of Teachers, Public School Parents on the Promise of Public Education.

That contradicts research by less-biased groups, writes Daniela Fairchild on Education Gadfly.

It “finds,” for example, that just 24 percent of parents support school choice—dramatically fewer than other recent polls report. The latest Phi Delta Kappan/Gallup poll, conducted in August 2012, found that 66 percent of Americans supported charters and 44 percent are warm to private school choice. And the 2012 PEPG/Education Next survey concurred: Sixty-two percent of Americans favor charter schools.

So why the disconnect? . . . The AFT’s poll asks parents to choose between “good public schools” that offer “safe conditions” and an “enriching curriculum” and private schools paid for “at the public expense.” The former—naturally—won the day.

Other AFT questions are riddled with the same problem (see Terry Moe’s excellent book for more on how question framing pre-determines answers).

The vast majority of African-American voters in the South strongly support school choice, according to a survey by the Black Alliance for Educational Options. As the name suggests, BAEO supports school choice.

In Alabama, Kentucky, Louisiana, and Mississippi, 85 percent to 89 percent of those surveyed wanted as many educational choices as possible.  A majority — 55 percent to 57 percent — said they would choose a different school for their child.

Like AFT, BAEO got the answers it wanted.

 

Pulling the parent trigger

More than a half-dozen states now have parent trigger laws that let a majority of parents seize control of a low-performing school, notes Education Next.

Empowered Families Can Transform the System, argues Ben Austin, executive director of Parent Revolution, which has led the parent trigger drives.

Parents enduring a parent trigger campaign are transformed. Some, like the parents at Desert Trails, are forced to endure lengthy legal battles, a process most of them have never experienced. Others, including the parents of 24th Street Elementary School and also Haddon Avenue Elementary in the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD), find a responsive school district that wants to collaborate with them in changing their school.

. . . Many of these parents, for the first time in their lives, feel real power, not only over their child’s destiny but over their own as well. These parents, and parents like them, are the key to the future of public education in America.

“Parents don’t care if a public school is a traditional district school or a charter school,” writes Austin. “They just want it to be a good school.”

There’s a Better Way to Unlock Parent Power, responds Michael J. Petrilli of the Fordham Foundation. While “it’s worth experimenting with the parent trigger,” it’s not likely to turn around many schools or force significant reform.

First, the parent trigger mechanism itself will continue to get bogged down in lawsuits and other blocking tactics, as has been the case to date. Second, if and when the trigger gets pulled, the resulting school turnarounds won’t generally amount to much. And third, empowering parents via the parent trigger (creating a “bargaining chip”) won’t be enough to force larger changes in dysfunctional districts—because nothing will force such change.

Petrilli favors expanding school choice with more charter schools, vouchers and digital learning. Even if choice doesn’t force districts to improve, it will give parents more options for their children, he argues.

Try the trigger, writes Checker Finn, also of Fordham. Since “most bad districts are going to stay bad,” serious reformers need to “give kids every possible exit” into something better. “Helping an entire school to extricate itself from the dysfunctional system is surely one such strategy. Instead of pooh-poohing it, how about we put it on the list of possibilities, wish it well, and do our damnedest to help it succeed as often as possible?”

Louisiana court rejects voucher funding

Louisiana can’t use per-pupil funding to pay for school vouchers, the state  Supreme Court ruled today on a 6-1 vote.

“The state funds approved through the unique MFP (minimum foundation program) process cannot be diverted to nonpublic schools or other nonpublic course providers according to the clear, specific and unambiguous language of the constitution,” wrote Justice John Weimer in the opinion.

The lone dissenter, Justice Greg Guidry saw no constitutional reason the state could not use a student’s per-pupil allocation “to fund scholarships” because the money reverts to the state when the student leaves the system.

The court also found the MFP for the 2012-13 school year is invalid because it was passed by resolution, in violation of proper procedure.

Gov. Bobby Jindal expanded the state’s voucher program as part of his 2012 education reforms: 8,000 students were expecting to receive vouchers in the 2013-14 school year. Louisiana teachers’ unions challenged the voucher plan.

Study: Vouchers raise college-going for blacks

Black students who used vouchers to attend New York City private schools were 24 percent more likely to enroll in college compared to similar students who lost the voucher lottery, write Matthew M. Chingos, a Brookings fellow, and Paul E. Peterson, a Harvard government professor, in Education Next. But vouchers had little effect on Hispanics’ college-going rates.

In the 1990s, philanthropists created the New York School Choice Scholarships Foundation (SCSF), which offered three-year vouchers worth up to $1,400 annually to as many as 1,000 low-income families with children entering first through fifth grade. With the average Catholic school tuition at $1,728, parents had to pay some of their children’s school costs.

After three years, black students who won the voucher lottery had significantly higher test scores than the control group. The long-term study finds a large effect on college enrollment, but only for blacks.

The vouchers’ impact on college enrollment was larger than the effects of small class sizes in Tennessee, for much less cost. It was much larger than the impact of exposure to a highly effective teacher, Chingos and Peterson write.

They’re not sure why vouchers improved academic outcomes for blacks, but did little for Hispanics.

. . .  it appears that the African American students in the study had fewer educational opportunities in the absence of a voucher. . . . There is also some evidence that the public schools attended by Hispanic students were superior to those attended by African American students.

In addition, many Hispanic families chose private school for religious reasons, while most black families “had secular education objectives in mind.”