Tom Edsall’s article the other day about Michelle Rhee is getting a lot of attention and it cited this short ES report that Margaret Sullivan and I did about teacher demographics in D.C. But while I suspect the trends the report identified are still largely relevant, per a few emails and blog posts from the calender-challenged and tin foil hat crowd who see a screen play for Rhee it’s worth noting that Margaret and I did the work in September of 2006 and Rhee became Chancellor in June of 2007…if I had anticipatory powers like that I’d be at the track.
It’s pretty apparent that Eric Hanushek and Alfred Lindseth are not stimulated. But the debate about whether students can be stimulated by rewards goes on. The Times takes a look at all that and Roland Fryer makes the case for getting beyond bias as we think about it.
Matt Ladner Jay Greene* finds me insufficently enthused about school vouchers because of this post the other day. Fair enough, I am. But Jay raises three points that are worth fleshing out. First, I’ve made the point that the spread of school vouchers over the past two decades is pretty intresting and remarkable given both the organized opposition and what Terry Moe has called a “public school ideology.” But lumping various tax-credits and voucher plans together as Jay and other school choice advocates often do creates a false sense of scale for intentional choice plans. That matters here because my point was that it’s because vouchers have been limited to a few places and had a limited impact one way or the other that’s led to a subtle but significant shift in the attitude of some elites towards these programs. Second, Jay finds the systemic effects more robust than I do. Reasonable people can review the cumulative literature about choice plans and disagree on how substantively significant or transformative these effects are (or could be at scale) and what that means for vouchers as a policy. My take is that the political impact outstrips the substantive impact on how schools and school districts operate. For a smart take on this check out Revolution at the Margins by Rick Hess if you haven’t yet ( a review here). Third, Jay makes the point that the threat of vouchers has helped spread charter schools. That’s right, especially in the early days of charter schools. Bryan Hassel wrote a good book that looked at this and it’s a pretty widely acknowledged point by charter school advocates and various analysts. But, at some point charter schools will reach sufficient mass so that their diffusion will happen based on other factors than the threat vouchers. Over a million students in more than 4,000 charter schools is substantial and charter caps, for instance, have been raised absent a voucher threat and state financing for charter facilities has been expanded absent the voucher threat. It’s possible that Jay is right and that once they’ve dispatched vouchers school choice opponents will turn their guns on charters, but it’s also possible that in the end vouchers will end up being the stalking horse for charters rather than the other way around…
*Corrected version. The perils of group blogging. Matt changed to Jay throughout the graf.
Update: Jay, and it really is Jay, responds. He wonders how someone can be supportive of charter schools but not of vouchers. I don’t see that as such a puzzle if one is supportive of more intentional choice and customization for students and parents than exists today but leery of severing the connection between avenues of democratic input into public schooling decisions and those decisions. In other words, for some people the issue isn’t choice, rather it’s accountability in a broad sense. That’s not at odds with a lot of choice schemes but is certainly at odds with some. It’s a political position, yes, but not in the partisan sense but rather to the extent that all of our various beliefs about state and society are. Jay also objects to my objection to lumping tax-credits and vouchers together. It’s a weird argument to have since I’ve elsewhere written about the rapid spread of school choice and why that’s interesting. My original point here is that because voucher pilots like the one in D.C. have ended up being somewhat innocuous it’s causing a shift in how they’re perceived. A few days after I wrote that the Democratic Secretary of Education broke ranks with many Democrats on the hill — and with Dem orthodoxy — over the D.C. voucher program. That voucher proponents are in such a tizzy to show that there is still great momentum is perhaps a sign of some insecurity about where things stand overall. In fact, I don’t recall using the word “stalled” at all but that’s somehow become the debate. Beyond that I think Jay and I have a disagreement over the substantive significance of various choice programs and their transformative potential, that’s a good debate.