Choice Words

For the second consecutive year, state Superintendent Tony Evers has used his bully pulpit at the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction to imply that the Badger State is throwing more money at a voucher program that is inferior to a traditional school system which is receiving less. But a closer inspection of Mr. Evers’s gamesmanship reveals the tricks he employs to attack a program he once called “morally wrong.”

Closer inspection of Mr. Evers’s gamesmanship reveals the tricks he employs to attack a program he once called "morally wrong."

Just like last year, Evers distributed a press release this week asserting that students in the Milwaukee and Racine voucher programs scored no better, and in some cases worse, than district students on Wisconsin’s standardized test. We all know that such comparisons are problematic because of “selection bias” since nobody can be sure whether kids using vouchers and those using the public schools differ in important ways. (The former might, for example, have fled bad districts precisely because they were doing poorly there.)

Especially galling was Evers’s use of the Racine data.

His press release claims that far more district students in that city scored at grade level or better in reading and math than did Racine students who chose the private school voucher, barely half of whom were rated proficient in either subject.

But what the superintendent failed to note was that voucher recipients had been in their chosen private schools for only two months before taking the...

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The mainstream resistance to school choice has embraced the language of fear and unrest. National School Boards Association executive director Anne L. Bryant asked recently in the Huffington Post whether virtual schools are a sham and warned of “corruption and greed” among for-profit providers looking to cash in on students. It would be foolish to dismiss this as a more aggressive rhetorical attempt to retain dominance in the public school marketplace. Arguments such as Bryant’s are showing success in state legislatures and they’re degenerating legitimate debate over education reform.

The mainstream resistance to school choice has embraced the language of fear and unrest.

For instance, a proposed parent trigger law in Florida failed in the state Senate after opponents similarly warned that gullible parents would be swooned by corporate education raiders looking to profit by converting traditional schools to charters. Never mind that charters have been flourishing in the Sunshine State for more than fifteen years. Democrat Nan Rich, the Senate’s minority leader, said the trigger would lay “the groundwork for the hostile corporate takeover of public schools across Florida.” Eight Republicans joined Rich and eleven other Democrats to defeat the measure, and nearly all expressed the same contempt.

There is more than just semantics at stake. Rich and her colleagues arguably were trying to revise history and the parent trigger gave them the opportunity. Bryant, while representing more than 90,000 local school board members, used her polemic to frame how states should contain online learning—for those public...

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On Fordham’s Boards Eye View blog today, Hoover scholar John Chubb made the case that states should relieve local school boards of the authority to govern student access to the burgeoning online learning market and expose school systems to more disruptive innovations. A new analysis of virtual education trends from the Evergreen Education Group gives us more evidence that districts may be unwilling to give up their authority easily.

This year’s “Keeping Pace” report from Evergreen gives us a snapshot of online and blending learning practices and tells us that the fastest-growing segment is coming from single-district programsthose run by one district for that district’s students. While it’s satisfying to see more districts embrace digital learning programssome with the purpose to compete with state-run virtual schoolsthese are school systems that are drawing boundaries around a practice that should be boundless.

These aren’t examples of disruptive innovations. These are not all fully online programs, but rather mostly blended models that combine face-to-face learning with virtual instruction that is mostly supplemental. This is not surprising, given that districts are serving only their own students, many of whom are at-risk and take advantage of online instruction mostly for credit recovery. The self-paced, fully online multi-media instruction with one-on-one teacher support that bridges long distances is found primarily in state-run programs, not in school districts.

Even the most reform-friendly states can be unwelcoming to the disruptions to which Chubb refers.

Even the most reform-friendly states can be unwelcoming to the...

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Governor Bobby Jindal’s school voucher proposal for Louisiana has been dragged into the familiar politics of parental choice. The state House took up the measure today, with Democrats calling for a smaller pool of eligible students and strict accountability of schools receiving voucher revenue. It doesn’t matter that Jindal would require participating schools to assess their voucher students with Louisiana’s standardized test and disclose the results. Democrats want the state to penalize private schools for poor performance.

Governor Bobby Jindal’s school voucher proposal for Louisiana has been dragged into the familiar politics of parental choice.

Let’s set aside the size of the eligibility pool—Jindal would offer vouchers to low-income students in schools graded C, D, or F, and opponents want to drop the “C” schools—and focus on accountability. The governor is going further than most school choice advocates in preferring to assess voucher students with the same tests given at public schools, but he wouldn’t have private schools face any legislatively determined sanctions if their students score poorly. There may be a political craving among some Louisiana lawmakers to hold dominion over private schools that receive public funding, but the best evidence we have supports the path Jindal has chosen.

The Milwaukee voucher program gives us guidance. The researchers at the University of Arkansas’ School Choice Demonstration Project reminded us in today’s Philadelphia Inquirer that Wisconsin’s school accountability requirements seemed at least partly responsible for the reading gains among voucher recipients. The final year of the project’s study...

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The authors of the Council on Foreign Relations’ report on US education reform and national security compared the sweep of their work with 1983’s A Nation at Risk, updating the “rising tide of mediocrity” with 21st century warnings of America’s weakened competitiveness. It’s hard to imagine that we’ll be talking about the Council’s recommendations 30 years from now, but there is much to this report that makes it one of the boldest statements on our progress toward higher educational standards and enhanced school choice.

The recommendations are not groundbreaking. The task force, chaired by former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and former New York schools chancellor Joel Klein, is urging the expansion of Common Core standards and the spread of more choice and competition

measures that are already driving our public debates. But the recommendations are no less impressive for the luminaries behind them. Klein, for one, called school choice a “uniquely American approach”...
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Within five years, charter school enrollment in Washington, D.C., could grow to include 46 percent of the public school population, according to a panel charged with reviewing finance inequities between the District’s public and public charter schools. The current charter enrollment of 32,000, already 41 percent of the population, could increase by as much as 10 percent next year alone. But while the panel didn’t find the funding solutions it sought, its enrollment projections remind us that the extended reach of charter schools in D.C. brings with it obligations that some charters are falling short in fulfilling.

D.C. charter school enrollment, already 41 percent of the public school population, could increase by as much as 10 percent next year alone.

Disciplinary data compiled by the D.C. Public Charter School Board show, for instance, that the District’s charter schools collectively resort to expulsions and 10-day suspensions more quickly than D.C. Public Schools. One school in particular, Friendship Collegiate Academy-Woodson, reportedly expelled 8 percent of its students—102 of 1,231 students—last year alone. While many schools questioned the accuracy of the data, even conservative estimates show some charters remove students from school at higher rates than their traditional school counterparts.

It is more conceivable now than ever that charter schools could ultimately educate a majority of D.C.’s public school students. But as they get closer to that milestone, charter operators will have to do more to counsel the pupils they’re too quick to remove from their campuses. Otherwise, they risk...

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The Archdiocese of New York announced this week that it would reshape the authority over its financially troubled Catholic school system, and its action should give advocates for Catholic education everywhere a reason to feel optimistic. By shifting power from local parishes to regional boards and finding new revenue sources, the archdiocese is taking a belated step toward better business practices that may leave its flock looking toward the future instead of staring into the abyss.

Church leaders tell the Wall Street Journal that this is an experiment and are giving three boards wide latitude to make profound changes to schools now under the control of parishes and a central superintendent. While the archdiocese says it will make the system more cost efficient, the new plan likely will lead to more painful decisions before schools find stability. The hard times for Catholic schools haven’t passed—enrollment has shrunk by 14,550 students in five years—but the boards may be better equipped to study their respective regions and grapple with the burden of recommending closure for some schools with an eye toward reviving others.

What will this mean for parishioners and other parents who have either made the choice of a Catholic education or who have considered doing so? A leaner, more efficient system, for one. The Journal reports that the archdiocese will reduce funding for elementary schools, but it is planning an endowment funded by the sale or lease of assets. Those transactions would have an educational benefit if the church...

Because Florida senators
generated so much heat over a proposed
parent trigger bill
in the Sunshine
State, it was easy to
look past their vote that eliminated the requirement for students to first
enroll in a public school before entering an online learning program. But while
they didn’t pull the trigger, lawmakers did blur the lines separating home
schooling and public schooling.

This is a step other states should
consider if they want to rethink the way they govern public education in the 21st
century.

If Governor Rick Scott signs the state’s digital
learning bill,
as expected, students in grades K-5 then could bypass a
brick-and-mortar school and directly enroll full-time in a virtual instruction
program, whether that program is managed by the Florida Virtual
School, a virtual charter
academy, or a school district. Previously, students were required to attend a
full year in a traditional school prior to their full-time enrollment in an
online program. Removing that requirement is a significant step for policy
makers, as they’re making little distinction between those who are learning at
home and those who are “home schooled.” That’s a step other states should
consider if they want to rethink the way they govern public education in the 21st
century.

The bill had the support of Jeb
Bush’s Foundation for Florida’s Future
and passed by a collective 136-19
vote...

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A juvenile display of rhetoric over a proposed parent
trigger in the Florida Senate last Friday underscored a need to introduce some
clear-headed thinking into a polarizing debate. While senators in the Sunshine State killed
the trigger in their 20-20 split vote
, similar bills remain under
consideration in more than a dozen states. With that in mind, Choice Words has developed some
legislative guidance for more informative inquiry.

I would have done anything to stop the childish dialogue among Florida senators to ask these questions about the trigger.

Really, these are just the questions I’ve had about the
trigger, and I would have done anything to stop the childish dialogue among Florida senators to ask
them. Eight moderate Republicans joined 12 Democrats to vote the trigger down,
and nearly all of them were seized by the threat of “privatization” and
for-profit charter schools. Not a word on whether parents can take on the
burden of running a low-performing school or turning it over to a charter
manager. Not a word on whether it should require more than a simple majority of
parents to make such a drastic change. Legislators missed an opportunity to
bring clarity to a discussion now ruled by passion. For the Senate Democratic
minority leader, Nan Rich, the
trigger did nothing
but lay “the groundwork for the hostile corporate
takeover of public schools across Florida.”

For the legislator who...

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Lawmakers in at least 10 states are considering a policy
shift that would bring more educational choices to an especially vulnerable
population of students: the special education voucher.  They are taking inspiration from a pioneering
effort in Florida,
the McKay Scholarships for Students with Disabilities, which already is
emulated in six other states. This program has saved taxpayers money while
satisfying participating families. What’s more, teacher unions seem disinclined
to mount a legal challenge to a program that benefits students with special
needs, though they remain eager to fight other voucher programs.

But are happy families and budget savings enough? What about
academic achievement? Do the private schools these kids attend teach them
anything? How does their performance compare with those of special-needs kids
who remain in public schools? Right now, we simply don’t know.

Currently, 28,800 special-education students receive
publicly funded private-school scholarships in seven states. Florida’s McKay program serves nearly 80
percent of those youngsters; according
to Manhattan Institute scholar Marcus A. Winters,
it’s “a nearly ideal
template” for policy makers to consider. The Sunshine State’s
Legislature established it 13 years ago with the encouragement of then-governor
Jeb Bush, and today the program enjoys modest bipartisan support of a sort
seldom found with vouchers of any kind. Last year, the McKay program served
about 22,200 students, about 6 percent of the 340,000 young Floridians with
special needs...

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