It is, perhaps, no longer news to see yet another 1.5 percent decline in Catholic school enrollment in the United States. However, two separate but related facts make this year’s annual statistical report from the National Catholic Educational Association more troubling.
1. Charter enrollment exceeded Catholic school enrollment for the first time this school year (in 2011–12, each sector had about the same number of students). Catholic school enrollment dropped 1.5 percent to 2,001,740 students, while charter school enrollment increased 13 percent to 2,326,542 students. From here on, any graph plotting student numbers in each sector likely will look like a pair of open scissors.
2. A recent report from U.S. Census Bureau researcher Stephanie Ewert shows that private school enrollment is negatively associated with charter school enrollment. This is similar to what economist Richard Buddin found in his report last year for the Cato Institute when he looked at charter and private school enrollment trends from 2000 to 2008. Ewert looks at more recent years and found that states with substantial increases in charter school enrollment experienced substantial decreases in private school enrollment—particularly at Catholic schools.
Vouchers and tax-credit scholarships have surely offset some of those shifting patterns (Buddin noted that 190,000 students left private schools for charter schools between 2000 and 2008, but about that same number got public aid for private schools by the end of that time period). Most of those private-school-choice programs, however, are so
The New York Times published a semi-balanced story today on the growth of the private school–choice movement—and attention is always welcome—but it also helped perpetuate two nagging myths about vouchers and tax-credit scholarships:
1. Reporters Fernanda Santos and Motoko Rich wrote, “Research tracking students in voucher programs has also not shown clear improvements in performance.” Not true. As nine scholars and analysts noted in an Education Week essay published last year, results from gold-standard voucher research have consistently shown (among other positive effects) modest academic gains and outsize graduation rates among voucher recipients when compared to their public school–district peers.
2. The story also repeated the fable that vouchers are accompanied by no accountability for academic results. Wrong. Choice advocate Dick Komer of the firm Institute for Justice told the Times that the only real accountability that matters is parental choice. Voucher opponent and union chief Randi Weingarten railed, “There’s absolutely no accountability with vouchers.” Both are wrong.
In fact, the two newest voucher programs, both of which have captured much attention (Indiana and Lousiana), as well as the proposed initiative in Tennessee, make clear that underperforming private schools won’t be welcome in these programs, for these (and many other) choice programs require participating private schools to administer the same assessments as are given in public schools and bar schools from continuing in the program if their assessment results are weak and stay that way.
It turns out that the
When the charter school movement started twenty-plus years ago, charters represented a radical innovation in governance: School districts would no longer enjoy an “exclusive franchise” on local public schools; they would compete with public, independent, autonomous (but accountable) charter schools too.
In the last twenty years, American education and its charter sector have evolved in important ways.
Much has happened in the charter sector since then—in fact, what began as a community-led, mom-and-pop movement has evolved to include a burgeoning assemblage of charter school networks, as well. But the laws ruling charter school governance remain largely the same. It’s time for a reboot in order to address three critical problems.
First, state laws and authorizer policies often require a full-fledged governing board for every charter school, and these policies make no exception for high-performing charter networks (such as KIPP and Rocketship Education). Thus, replicating at scale is difficult. In fact, only ten states explicitly allow for networks to operate multiple schools under the oversight of one governing board* and three states (Pennsylvania, Connecticut, and Iowa) explicitly prohibit the practice.
Second, management organizations—especially for-profits—often control their schools’ governing boards, leading to serious questions about accountability and conflicts of interest. The Fordham Institute, both as an education think tank and a charter school authorizer in Ohio,
Ordinarily, states that measure the academic performance of public school students assess students with disabilities no differently than students in general education. But exceptions are made, primarily for children with severe cognitive disabilities. And testing accommodations frequently are part of a student’s Individualized Education Plan (such as extending the time it takes to take a test).
Those exceptions partly explain why the Thomas B. Fordham Institute excluded special-education voucher programs from a study of how private schools view the regulations that come with various voucher and tax-credit-scholarship programs. Traditional testing tools aren’t always the best measure for students with special needs, but that doesn’t mean no accountability measures should follow special-needs students who leave a public school for a private school with a publicly funded voucher.
Virtually no accountability measures, however, exist in most of the nation’s special-education voucher programs, including the largest such program in the United States, Florida’s McKay Scholarship for Students with Disabilities. And the coalition of schools that oversees the McKay program appears to want to keep it that way—and it’s wrong to do so.
The McKay Coalition surveyed its own Florida schools after Fordham published School Choice Regulations: Red Tape or Red Herring, which surveyed private schools in communities served by four prominent voucher programs in Indiana, Ohio, and Wisconsin. The Fordham report found that only 3 percent of non-participating schools cited governmental regulations as the most important reason to opt out. Regulations that restrict student admissions
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.
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