Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Voucher Study

One of the complaints often made about school voucher programs is that 1) private schools find a way to "skim the cream" of public school students, resulting in 2) less racial integration. Like much of the debate over vouchers, this complaint has little connection to reality.

A study that was just released on charter schools in San Diego comes to a similar conclusion:
Our results seem particularly clearcut on the first question of integration. . . . In addition, our analysis of both applications and actual school transfers makes it quite clear that the choice programs in San Diego do serve to integrate the city’s schools racially and socioeconomically. Our analysis of the student demography at charter schools makes clear that charters in San Diego do not fit the stereotype of elite schools skimming off primarily white, affluent, and high-scoring students.
The scholars did not find any significant difference in test scores, leading them to this conclusion:
What are the larger implications of the nondefinitive test-score results? It would be extremely premature to argue that they suggest that the school choice programs should be either curtailed or expanded. To some readers, the very fact that the programs are so popular with parents may be sufficient justification to continue them. To others, the lack of a consistently positive effect of choice on reading and math achievement may be quite troubling. But potentially mitigating factors abound here. Do the reading and math tests capture true achievement well? What about achievement in other domains? What about nonacademic outcomes? Charter schools may actually receive less funding than regular public schools and so they may prove more cost-effective even though they seem to produce about the same achievement gains as regular public schools.
One thing that I find baffling about the voucher debates, by the way, is this. Educators often state in no uncertain terms that you can't measure the value of education solely by looking at test scores. Education is about much more than filling in the right circles on a multiple-choice math test, they say. But whenever a study comes out showing that, contrary to a lot of previous research, kids in private or charter schools don't necessarily have higher scores, some of the same people leap all over the news as proof that vouchers or charter schools are "not the answer." It's almost as if they switch their position on the validity of tests based on what's politically convenient at the time.



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