Over at Washington Monthly Greg Anrig declares the school voucher movement dead. I’m pretty skeptical of vouchers as a policy reform, but this is too tidy and I suspect he’ll regret writing:
From all appearances, then, the voucher movement may not long outlive its founder, Friedman, or its most vigorous advocate and funder, Michael Joyce, who both died in 2006. How did one of the conservative policy world’s most cherished causes crumble so quickly?
I’ve actually been struck at how fast, since 1990, vouchers have expanded. Multiple statewide programs, a federal one, etc…Considering that it is an idea that cuts against the grain of a cherished public institution and is opposed by an array of influential groups, that programs have even passed in so many states strikes me as noteworthy. And, there is that small issue of the voucher movement winning a major church state victory at the U.S. Supreme Court…
Where vouchers have not delivered as promised is around dramatically changing student achievement or school district behavior. There is a lot of cherry picking out there in terms of what studies people cite, but overall the results are not as grim as critics claim but nor are they nearly as encouraging as voucher proponents would have you believe. I think the best you can say is very modest measurable improvements.
All that said, while I wish the energy that was now going into vouchers were put into expanding parental options through public charter schooling, public choice plans, incentives to better integrate school districts, and the like, politics is a funny thing and I sure wouldn’t count the voucher movement out at all. If for no other reason than there are a lot of groups out there working hard on the issue and today’s political environment will eventually change, the issue is not dead. Add into that stew the persistent underperformance of urban schools and the general trends in American society and I think we’ll be having this debate for some time.
Besides, where former voucher enthusiasts Sol Stern, Chester Finn, and others are recalibrating their ideas are not in terms of vouchers themselves but the relationship between vouchers and other policies. Anrig conflates the two here and in the process misreads the environment.
Meanwhile, speaking of Sol Stern, Greg Forster is pushing back on newly converted voucher skeptic Stern. Background on all that here. I’ve been stunned that throughout the whole Stern debate it’s rarely been pointed out that a lot of people, E.D. Hirsch chief among them, have been saying basically the same thing about choice and curriculum for years.