Over on the Ohio Gadfly Daily, Fordham’s Jeff Murray has a meditation on what it’s like to lose the school-choice lottery. And it vividly reminds us that despite a flourishing school-choice movement, many families still struggle to access the one school they want for their children—even a public school.
Jeff and his wife have been reaching into their “middle-income pockets” to send their daughters to a “middle-of-the-road” private school because their public school options have been substandard. Until recently. An impressive STEM high school planned to expand to middle grades, and it was just what the Murray family wanted.
So it was for hundreds of others. And so a lottery would pick the lucky few from the many who longed for what Jeff called the Holy Grail, the best possible educational foundation for their kids. “We know we’d found it,” he writes. “And we can’t get in.”
Jeff has left us a lot to ponder, and not just because he has left us a powerful, personal reflection. What happens, he asks, when you don’t have the means or the knowledge of the system? What happens when all your choices are bad?
What happens, indeed?
Private education as we have known it is on its way out, at both the K–12 and postsecondary levels. At the very least, it's headed for dramatic shrinkage, save for a handful of places and circumstances, to be replaced by a very different set of institutional, governance, financing, and education-delivery mechanisms.
Consider today's realities. Private K–12 enrollments are shrinking—by almost 13 percent from 2000 to 2010. Catholic schools are closing right and left. The Archdiocese of Philadelphia, for example, announced in January that forty-four of its 156 elementary schools will cease operations next month. (A few later won reprieves.) In addition, many independent schools (day schools and especially boarding schools) are having trouble filling their seats—at least, filling them with their customary clientele of tuition-paying American students. Traditional nonprofit private colleges are also challenged to fill their classroom seats and dorms, a situation to which they're responding by heavily discounting their tuitions and fees for more and more students.
Meanwhile, charter school enrollments are booming across the land. The charter share of the primary-secondary population is 5 percent nationally and north of 25 percent in two dozen
The Justice Department has taken school-voucher policy to unstable ground. Last month, three agency attorneys sent a letter to Wisconsin officials declaring that the Badger State hasn’t done enough to protect the rights of students with disabilities who participate in voucher programs in Milwaukee and Racine. But the prescription contained within that letter would effectively entangle religious schools in the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA), from which they have largely been exempted.
The trouble started two years ago, when the American Civil Liberties Union and Disability Rights Wisconsin complained to the Justice Department that private schools in the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program were violating the ADA. They argued that the schools were failing to accommodate disabled students, discouraging some from attending and improperly expelling others. (NB: These groups did not make these claims under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (i.e., special education); private schools are clearly exempt from its requirements.)
The Justice Department didn’t determine whether Milwaukee’s private schools had violated the ADA, but its civil-rights attorneys did tell the Wisconsin schools superintendent, Tony Evers, that he “must do more to enforce the federal statutory and regulatory requirements that govern the treatment of students with disabilities who participate in the school choice program.” Evers, according to the letter, must also count all of the disabled students enrolled at voucher schools and determine how many of them end up suspended or expelled. And he must advise these schools
After twenty years of charter schooling, the research literature is voluminous, but much of it is contradictory and confusing—not to mention politically motivated. With this in mind, Columbia University professor Priscilla Wohlstetter and her colleagues set out to separate the empirical wheat from the ideological chaff and review more than a decade of charter school literature to show how charters have progressed. While the authors can, through their synthesis of high-quality studies, tell us much about accountability (more schools close due to mismanagement than from their failure in the marketplace) and the unintended consequences of charters (re-segregation, but not widespread, and not unanticipated), the book is important especially for telling readers what we still don’t know about the charter sector. Consider the key issue of performance: Most charter research analyzes student achievement, but it generally consists of student snapshots and is devoid of the large-scale, random-control studies that are the gold standard. As a result, we’re left with contradictory evidence on how well charter students perform and inconclusive findings on how various factors like autonomy affect school outcomes. But by identifying this gap of knowledge, the authors map out new possibilities for research: How are charters using their autonomy, and what keeps them from exercising their freedom? Which academic programs are most successful at raising student achievement, and do they differ much from those offered at traditional schools? Now that charter movement is older and larger (2.3 million
About the Editor
Director, Program on Parental Choice
Adam Emerson is the Thomas B. Fordham Institute’s school choice czar, directing the Institute’s policy program on parental choice and editing the Choice Words blog. He coordinates the Institute’s school choice-related research projects, policy analyses and commentaries on issues that include charter schools and public school choice along with school vouchers, homeschooling and digital learning.
May 23, 2013
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