Eduwonk Unloads Toxic Assets!

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.

9 Replies to “Eduwonk Unloads Toxic Assets!”

  1. Andy-

    It was Jay Greene who wrote that post rather than me. I’d like to recommend that you give Jeb Bush’s people a call down in Florida. Governor Bush of course pursued a comprehensive education reform package in Florida, including vouchers and tax credits and a great deal of other reforms. As you know, Florida’s Hispanic 4th graders now outscore the statewide averages in 15 states on reading. Free and reduced lunch Hispanics outscored several statewide averages.

    Jeb’s people will tell you that vouchers drew the fire from opponents of reform, making the world safe not only for charters, but also for many other reforms.

    To add to that, we now have several evaluations, including from the Urban League, isolating the impact of the private choice programs and finding positive results on public schools. Private choice programs add value both in terms of end results and strategically as a part of a comprehensive approach to public school reform.

  2. In fact, Jeb Bush wrote the following yesterday in the Atlanta Journal Constitution:

    Vouchers didn’t harm the quality of public education. In fact, research by Harvard and Cornell universities concluded that Florida’s choice programs actually improved the quality of education in public schools. Fearing the loss of students, public schools developed innovative ways to help students succeed, such as offering Saturday morning tutorials and after-school intervention.

    There is irrefutable evidence our education reform formula is responsible for Florida’s rising student achievement. Nearly a quarter of a million more children are reading at or above grade level today than a decade ago. Florida is scoring above the national average in reading and math. Moreover, the U.S. Department of Education recently recognized Florida as one of five states to close the achievement gap for minority students.

  3. The reality is that there is as much opportunity for democrat input in the design and operation of voucher programs as charter schools or traditional public schools for that matter. The public can place whatever regulations it deems necessary on voucher schools as a condition of receiving those funds, just as it does with charter and traditional public schools. Of course, all of these systems would operate best with minimal regulation. If regulation were the answer to school effectiveness our public schools would already be fantastic.

  4. I remain confused at the amazement of people ,with the title of research director, to a group filtered of its poor performers outperforming a group which contains its low performers. Florida has a retention policy set at grade three which stops poor scorers from moving to grade 4. We then can hear comparisons of performance before the retention policy was in place and after without the mere existence of the filter in place. Do some research directors need directed to ethical reporting of results or is it all politics disguised as education policy? Florida found vouchers unconstitutional. The second time this issue was presented, it resulted in a scolding for using cloaked language.

  5. Northwestern University’s David Figlio released a study showing Florida’s voucher system was ineffective in producing better learning in its voucher schools.

  6. Mr. Ladner,
    Actually I tried to have Jeb return my call years ago about the poor
    performance of the gifted, imho. He never did. I guess that says something in itself. Time has passed and I have the ears of many now. It is never acceptable to me to close an achievement gap by holding down the top. Florida legislators have thrice left acceleration actions to die.
    As I always said, I am not well acquainted with the NAEP testing stuff but all too familiar with our state test.
    I am not impressed with Florida’s 37% being proficient in Reading at grade ten in 2000 or 2001 and having been fully exposed to the bologna called the A+ plan, are at 38% in 2009 in grade 10.

  7. 2008 FCAT results for grade 10 Hispanic students:

    79% scored in the lowest two ofour five levels. Certainly, this excludes those who dropped out.

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