School closures are traumatic.
Photo by Thomas Hawk
Secretary Duncan and his team were mobbed the other day by agitated parents and kids protesting the closing of public schools around the land. Though Uncle Sam has no real control over this, it's true that Duncan came to Washington promising to close (or overhaul) a thousand schools a year and, more recently, has been pressing for radical action in the lowest-performing 5 percent—i.e., about 5000 schools. Actual data in this realm are scarce, but NCES reports roughly a thousand closings a year among “regular” public schools (meaning that, in one sense, Duncan's promise is being kept, though not by him), as well as who knows how many charter and private schools that bite the dust. But even if the total is closer to 2000, in a country with 100,000 schools that's just 2 percent a year. Moreover, schools keep opening, too, hundreds of them every year in every sector.
Nobody likes to close schools. Secretary Duncan remarked to the crowd, “I don't know any educator who wakes up in the morning and says, ‘I want to close schools.’” And it’s self-evident that nobody likes to have his or her own school closed. It's traumatic for families, teachers, students, neighborhoods, communities, even entire villages and towns.
But there are three big reasons why schools close and will continue to close—while
Do regulations and accountability requirements deter private schools from participating in choice programs? How important are such requirements compared to other factors, such as voucher amounts? Are certain types of regulations stronger deterrents than others? Do certain types of schools shy away from regulation more than others? All of this matters, because if private schools decide not to participate, private school choice programs become unworkable.
It turns out that private schools are not vehemently opposed to academic accountability (including state testing and reporting requirements), according to a new Fordham report out today.
Authored by David Stuit and Sy Doan of Basis Policy Research, School Choice Regulations: Red Tape or Red Herring? found that testing and reporting requirements ranked among the least important considerations for school leaders, with just 25 percent citing state assessment rules as very important when deciding whether or not to participate (and only 17 percent said the same about public reporting of testing results).
While 3 percent of non-participating schools cited governmental regulations as the most important reason to not participate in choice programs, government regulations are not judged equally. Among non-participating schools,
- More than half (58 percent) cited obligatory paperwork and mandatory “open enrollment” as important factors in their decisions;
- Nearly half (48 percent) cited upholding student-admissions criteria as
Many proponents of private school choice—both the voucher and tax credit scholarship versions—take for granted that schools won’t participate (or shouldn’t participate) if government asks too much of them, regulates their practices, requires them to reveal closely held information and—above all—demands that they be publicly accountable for student achievement. A recent Friedman Foundation report, for example, bemoaned testing requirements that “may force all participating schools to move in the direction of a single, monopolistic curriculum and pedagogy...” And analysts at the Cato Institute went so far as to send letters to Indiana private schools urging them not to participate in the state’s new voucher program, which it called a “strategic defeat” for school reform, in part because of its testing and transparency requirements.
But is this assumption justified? It’s surely plausible on paper. Part of what’s distinctive and valuable—and often educationally effective—about private schools is their autonomy, their freedom to be different, their escape from the heavy regulatory regime that characterizes most of public education. Insofar as they cherish that autonomy, over-regulation by government might well deter them from participating in taxpayer-supported choice programs and thereby block children from benefiting from the education those private schools offer.
Were such school refusals to be widespread, the programs themselves could not serve
The MAP is exactly the type of "good" assessment that many educators claim to favor
Photo by albertogp123.
Shame on the teachers of Garfield High. Shame on them for resisting a modicum of personal responsibility for student learning. Shame on them for obfuscating what their resistance is really about. And double-shame on them for likening their selfish crusade to the noble acts of resistance of the Civil Rights era.
As you probably know, the teachers of Seattle’s Garfield High School are “boycotting” the Measures of Academic Progress (MAP) assessment, which is required by the district. Ostensibly, their protest is about the overuse of tests, the instructional time that those tests devour, and the culture of soulless data-driven instruction that animates today’s brand of school reform.
Yet it’s hard to square their complaints with the actual test they decry, for the MAP is precisely the type of “good” assessment that many educators claim to favor. It’s instructionally useful; it provides instantaneous feedback to teachers and students alike; and it’s not used for high-stakes decisions on issues pertaining to students and schools.
The real reason the Garfield teachers attack the MAP, one must presume, is because it’s a small part of Seattle’s new teacher-evaluation system. (If students show low growth on the
About the Editor
Michael J. Petrilli
Executive Vice President
Mike Petrilli is one of the nation's foremost education analysts. As executive vice president of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, he oversees the organization's research projects and publications and contributes to the Flypaper blog and weekly Education Gadfly newsletter.
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