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
Andy Rotherham deserves respect as one of the most thoughtful proponents of education reform, as well as an impressive institution-builder. He and I probably agree on 90 percent of the issues, though we have sparred at times over the federal role, the balance between “excellence and equity,” and sundry other topics.
My greatest frustration, though, has been his unwillingness to offer full-throated support for school vouchers.
Maybe he’s finally ready. In a blog post yesterday, he predicted that if current reform efforts stall, the future will bring a “low-accountability environment coupled with much more choice” and pointed to the Indiana voucher program (recently upheld by that state’s Supreme Court and hailed by Michael Gerson in the Washington Post) as a sign of things to come.
What Andy may not fully appreciate is that Indiana’s voucher program has accountability in spades. As David Stuit and Sy Doan explain in their recent report for Fordham, School Choice Regulations: Red Tape or Red Herring? , the Hoosier State has an “annual performance-accountability rating system” for participating private schools that is based on the results of state assessments—the same tests that public school pupils take. Indeed, the fact that private schools will soon be held accountable under Common Core standards and assessments has become a major issue in the Hoosier State—because it gives palpitations to the right, not the left! (Other recently enacted private-school-choice programs, including those in Louisiana and Alabama, also include
Alabama Governor Robert Bentley today signed into law his state’s first private school choice program—a K–12 tuition tax credit—avoiding what was perhaps the most ridiculous attempt yet to thwart efforts to enact a voucher or tax-credit plan anywhere.
Bentley put his signature on the Alabama Accountability Act one day after the state’s Supreme Court lifted a restraining order that prevented him from even getting the bill, which passed two weeks ago along party lines. The Alabama Education Association had convinced a state judge last week to block legislative staffers from sending the bill to the governor, arguing that too many Republican lawmakers privately discussed rewriting a separate measure to include the tax credit without calling a public meeting.
The Alabama Supreme Court sensibly determined that the restraining order issued by Judge Charles Price was “premature.” The bill hadn’t even become law, and according to the top justices, there was no “existing case or controversy” that needed adjudicating.
In other words, there was no one harmed. As political scientist Joshua Dunn noted, courts don’t typically intrude in the internal workings of a state legislature, as a matter of separation of powers. The notion that the teacher union might have suffered “irreparable harm” without the restraining order (Judge Price’s words) was ludicrous.
Now that the bill is law, Bentley and others who supported the tax credit can expect a lawsuit. And families whose children are zoned to a failing public school and who
Paul Farhi’s smackdown of education reform and education reporting in the American Journalism Review may be inspirational to those who would march with the status quo, but it is dangerous coming from a publication that sets the standard for how newsrooms ought to conduct their affairs.
A cursory read of national news media should shatter any belief that journalists are making life easy for reformers or education entrepreneurs.
Photo by NS Newsflash.
Farhi, a Washington Post reporter, argues that reformers and billionaire philanthropists have fooled us into believing that American education is in crisis. And worse, passive journalists have allowed this ruse to go unchallenged. Reformers may be used to these sophomoric critiques, but Farhi would have reporters believe that our system of public education has never been better and that their job is to contest any claim to the contrary.
AJR would do better to remind its readers that, yes, some of our education system is fine, but a lot more is mediocre, ragged, losing ground to international peers, leaving many of our poorest and poorest-performing children with worsening odds that they’ll ascend to success and to the higher education of their choice. And it would do better to remind its readers that some of our best education reporters and
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.
June 13, 2013
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