Rebuttals to School-Choice Doubters

by Colette Moran

A couple weeks ago Politico pronounced that vouchers don’t do much for students. But AEI’s Michael McShane begged to differ – and gave the ammunition needed to refute those who denounce school choice.

1. There is almost no discussion of cost in the piece. Getting the same results (or slightly better) at around half the cost—the level at which most voucher programs are funded— is a big deal.

2. Advocates only talk about two studies (DC and NYC) when making the case for private school choice. Advocates [like the Friedman Foundation] generally like to say that 12 out of 13 gold-standard, randomized studies have found positive academic results for some or all students participating. Now, the gains haven’t been huge, but the pattern has been consistent.

3. The recurring trope that “voucher schools don’t participate in accountability programs” is curious on two counts. First, the three largest programs (Milwaukee, Indiana, and Louisiana) all have schools participate in accountability systems. Schools can lose the ability to accept voucher students for poor performance. Second, many of these same folks decry the fact that accountability systems are “inaccurate” or “unfair” and yet say that voucher schools should have to participate in them. If they’re bad, try and get schools out of them, not put more in.

4. There is lots of other research on civic outcomes like voting, voluntarism, and tolerance, and all of it shows positive results for students participating in voucher programs, as well as rigorous studies of the results of voucher programs on students left behind in public schools. Totally not mentioned in the Politico piece.

Part of the problem is that current programs are full, and schools are not being expanded nor are new ones being created. McShane adds, “in short, policymakers, private philanthropy, and school leaders need to get serious about what’s necessary to make the market work.” 

Another area of school choice that gets sort shrift in the press is the success of single-gender schools. CNN had this piece a few days ago about how at-risk black young men can benefit from all-male schools. The author, Freeden Oeur, is an assistant professor in the department of education at Tufts University. A common objection is that single-gender schools perpetuate stereotypes and are simply another form of segregation. But Oeur feels that separation from the other gender has enormous benefits.

For educators who are looking for a way to address the needs of black boys — who lag behind their peers on a range of academic and social measures, according to research — single-sex education is an important tool. Instead of abandoning the option, educators and policymakers should learn from the promising work of some of the schools that serve young black men. An all-male public school can celebrate many different ways of being a young man, freeing students from a straitjacket notion of masculinity.

He goes on to cite the success of just one east coast school he calls “Urban Charter” (to protect the boys’ identities). They have a near-perfect graduation rate, 80 percent of the boys go on to college, and the school has encouraged a wide variety of personal interests. The mock trial team is celebrated just as much as the basketball team, and almost all of the students attend school plays. A pro-academic focus has helped avoid a boot-camp atmosphere. 

Read more here and here



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