Archives for category: Vouchers

Larry Lee reports here about the departure of StudentsFirst and the Black Alliance for Educational Options from Alabama.

They set up camp in Alabama to advocate for charters and vouchers. Not to advocate for children, but to advocate for alternatives to public schools.

They met with some success. The appeal of charters and vouchers in the Deep South is a restoration of segregation, while claiming it is “all about the children.”

They left. They packed their bags and went away. They had no roots in Alabama. They didn’t stay to advocate for the children.

Christopher Lubienski reviews two recent voucher studies on behalf of the National Education Policy Center in this post. (The post summarizes the findings and contains links to Lubienski’s report.)

The two studies under review purport to show the success of vouchers. One was prepared by the pro-voucher Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice, whose role is to cheerlead for vouchers. The other comes from the Department of Education Reform at the University of Arkansas. Lubienski concludes that neither proves the success of vouchers.

Carol Burris, executive director of the Network for Public Education and retired New York State high school principal, reviews Samuel Abrams’ Education and the Commercial Mindset. To sum up, she loved it! It gives an important overview of today’s privatization movement, which attempts to make schools function like businesses.

Carol writes:

Kate Zernike of The New York Times recently wrote a scathing report of what school choice has done to the city of Detroit. The report, which appeared on June 28, tells the story of how an already strained public school system was further beaten down due to the influx of for-profit charter chains eager to grab a share of the market at any cost. Although the promise of choice was to improve all schools through competition, the outcome for Detroit has been a total collapse.

There is no better book to help explain the reasons why such a collapse would occur than Education and the Corporate Mindset, recently published by Harvard University Press. Author Samuel Abrams does a remarkable job tracing choice and market-based school reforms from their early beginnings in the for-profit Edison Schools, to the contemporary choice systems today.

Abrams, a former high school teacher of history and economics and the present Director of the National Center for the Study of Privatization in Education at Teachers College, Columbia University, is exactly the right author to help the public understand why market-place reforms are doomed to fail when imposed upon schools. His thoughtful, scholarly arguments are easy to understand. Sam Abrams makes the complicated clear.

The book begins with a history of Chris Whittle’s for-profit Edison Project that sought to impose the rigors of business on what Whittle perceived to be a poorly run and inefficient education system. The beginning chapters take the reader from Edison’s philosophical beginnings, through its marketing and implementation, its transformation from Edison Schools to Edison Learning, and to its eventual demise. Although Edison may be gone, its story is still important. Despite its failure, its influence continues because both ideas and players moved from Edison to the present charter school and online learning world. And of course Edison was the door through which Wall Street first walked to enter the business of school reform.

After telling the Edison story, Abrams pulls from his background in economic theory to explain why market-place reforms like Edison do not work in schools. Because students are both an “input” as well as a customer in the “production function” of schools, the rules of the marketplace are a bad fit. He also argues that good schooling must serve the needs of both the individual and the collective, and to meet the needs of both, shared investments and sacrifices are needed—an ethos not aligned with commercial interests.

Chapter 9 focuses on the emergence of the Charter Management Organization (CMO) as the replacement for the for-profit model. The profit motive may have disappeared (although as Abrams points out, some of the charter leaders receive compensation similar to business CEOs), however, the corporate language, marketing and management styles are very much a part of the CMO model. This is not surprising given that key Edison people—Scott Hamilton, Donald Fisher, John Fisher and Richard Barth moved from Edison to KIPP.

Abrams’ critical analysis of KIPPs’ scores, as well as the advantages that result from a more selective student body and philanthropic support, are well worth the read. In Chapter 10, Abrams frankly discusses the problems that CMOs face–teacher burnout, attrition, student exodus and the exacting code of discipline in the “no excuses” schools that drives both students and teachers out the door.

His most powerful arguments against market-based reforms, however, are left for the end. In Chapters 11 and 12, Abrams contrasts the school reform visions of two Nordic nations —Sweden and Finland. The first followed the course of choice and vouchers. The second followed equity-based public reforms.

In the late 1990s, Abrams explains how Sweden embarked on a course of privatization as the driver of school reform. The country embraced choice, corporate reforms, vouchers and privatization. Former Florida governor Jeb Bush and current Louisiana state education Superintendent John White were, not surprisingly, fans of the Swedish model of reform. Rupert Murdoch and Joel Klein, the former chancellor of New York City schools, visited to see how Swedish schools put self-paced curricula on computer tablets with minimal instruction provided to students by teachers.

Over a decade of Swedish market-based reforms, however, proved to be a flop. In 2011 the model came under fire. Abrams describes scandals and bankruptcies, grade inflation due to school marketing, higher costs, increased segregation, and patterns of clear advantage for the children of savvy parents. The municipal schools were left to educate the neediest children—an unequal system had gotten much worse. The country went into “PISA shock” when Sweden was the only nation in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development to see its scores decline every time on that international test since PISA began in 2000.

Finland, in contrast, chose equity reforms and a very different course. The Finns rejected privatization and chose smaller class sizes, higher teacher pay, no curriculum tracking until Grade 10, schools as a community centerpiece, free hot lunch for all students, strong university-based teacher preparation programs, the elimination of “school inspections” and the limiting of testing to “micro-samples” across all areas of curriculum including music and the arts. Finnish students consistently earn top or near top scores on PISA in reading, math and science. They outscore their Nordic neighbors, including Sweden, even though they have demographically similar populations.

When speaking with teachers and parents, I often find them bewildered by the rapid pace of school privatization coded as “school reform”. The allure of “choice” has brought false promise, along with a host of unintended negative consequences for their neighborhood schools. And yet, despite the evidence, the commercial mindset of choice and market practices continues to drive school change. If not stopped, the democratically governed school, anchored in a neighborhood in which parents and community have voice, will be a relic of the past. One only has to look to Sweden or Detroit to see the corruption, problems and failure that will result when the commercial mindset is in charge.

Education and the Commercial Mindset deserves to be at the top of your summer reading list. It connects the dots and sheds much needed light on the origins of corporate reforms. It makes a sound, research-based argument for why the commercial mindset has no place as a driver of change in our schools.

The arrogance of the charter industry is getting to be boundless. They want the authority to expand without limits, with no accountability or transparency.

If the Democrats don’t stand up to this brazen effort to privatize public education, who will?

Steven Singer writes here about the latest raid on the public treasury in Pennsylvania.

Singer writes:

Fund my charter school.

Come on, Pennsylvania.

Let me just swipe tax dollars you set aside to educate your children and put them into my personal bank account as profit.


I’ll be your best friend. Or at least I’ll be your legislator’s best friend.

Chances are, I already am.

That’s why lawmakers in Harrisburg are once again looking to pass a school code bill (House Bill 530) that would let charter schools expand exponentially almost completely unchecked and without having to do any of that nasty, sticky accountability stuff you demand of your traditional public schools.

Sure there are a few provisions in there to make charters fill out more paperwork, but the benefits for privatization and profitization of your child’s education are huge!

For me, that is. For your child, not so much.

For instance, the proposed legislation would set up a charter school funding advisory commission. This august body would have many duties including the ability to authorize charter schools in your local school district.

No longer would prospective charter operators have to come before your duly-elected board members and plead and beg to set up shop and suck away hard to come by education funding. They could just appear before the commission and sidestep your local democracy completely.

Who will be on this commission? I’m glad you asked.

We’ve got eight legislators. Got to give THEM a voice. But they’re usually pretty cheap. A few bucks in the re-election campaign and we’ll be golden. We’ll also have the state secretary of education and the chairman of the state board. We’ve got to make the thing look legit, right?

But here’s the best part! We’ll have four public education representatives and FIVE representatives of the charter school industry!

Isn’t that great!? There are significantly more traditional public schools throughout the state, but they’ll have less representation on the commission! It’s stacked with charter friendly votes! The forces of privatization have a built-in majority! Ring the dinner bell, Baby! Once this bill gets passed, it’s charter school time all across the Commonwealth!

Once a charter school is authorized, it can expand as much as it wants, without the local district’s permission. It can even enroll students from outside the district and charge the district!

Worse, the bill authorizes “education savings accounts,” a euphemism for vouchers.

Is the Pennsylvania legislature is a wholly-owned subsidiary of ALEC and the privatization movement.

The Network for Public Education is encouraging people who live in Pennsylvania to be informed and get involved. Don’t let them destroy public education that your community paid for. The schools belong to the public–or they should. Don’t let the privatizers take them away.

If you live in Pennsylvania, please, contact your legislators and ask them to oppose this terrible bill. The Network for Public Education has made it very easy. Just click HERE and you can shoot off a letter to your representatives in moments.

Oppose HB 530. Fight for public education.

I posted last night that Governor Pat McCrory plans to appoint a man to the state board of education who has little experience in public education, but is known for his strong support for removing a book taught in a high school English honors class.

North Carolina teacher Stuart Egan points out that the nominee has a conflict of interest. His wife ran/runs a school that receives state-funded vouchers.

Wake up, people of North Carolina! The legislators in your state are pummeling your public schools with a sledge hammer. They are turning them over to for-profit corporations! Do you want your local public school to be run by a national corporation? Do you care who “owns” your neighborhood school?

Stuart Egan, a high school teacher in North Carolina, has been writing recently about the step-by-step privatization of public schools in North Carolina.

In this post, he describes the General Assembly’s decision to create an “Achievement School District,” modeled on the one that failed in Tennessee. The basic idea is to gather up the lowest-performing schools in the state (attended by the poorest students) and turn them over to a charter operator.

He cites the comment made by Rep. Cecil Brockman, who favors outsourcing these schools to out-of-state corporations:

Perhaps the most frustrating moment of the final debate came when Rep. Brockman impulsively quipped,

“If (teachers) don’t like it, good. This is about the kids. Who cares about the teachers? We should care about the kids. If they don’t like it, maybe it’s a good thing.”

Do Republican legislators in North Carolina really have that much contempt for teachers? Apparently so. North Carolina raised entry level salaries to $35,000 but capped salaries at $50,000. Legislators work hard to remove any job protection or recognition for teachers. They even abolished the successful North Carolina Teaching Fellows Program–a five-year program at the University of North Carolina intended to prepare career teachers–and transferred the funding to Teach for America.

This is the same legislature that rolled out a budget proposal to spend $1 Billion on vouchers over the next decade. Most of the students who get vouchers will go to religious schools with uncertified teachers and no curriculum. How is this supposed to improve education?

Michael R. Ford, a professor of public administration at the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh, reports that 41% of private schools that received vouchers have closed their doors since the inception of the voucher program. Milwaukee has the nation’s oldest voucher program, and anyone looking for the miracle of school choice should look elsewhere. On the National Assessment of Educational Progress, Milwaukee continues to be one of the nation’s lowest performing urban districts. Milwaukee has had charters and vouchers for 25 years–two generations of students. If charters and vouchers were the answer to the problems of students and schools in urban districts, Milwaukee should be a shining star of student success. It is not.

Ford writes:

Forty-one percent of all private schools that participated in the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program (MPCP) between 1991 and 2015 failed. I do not mean failed as in they did not deliver academically, I mean failed as in they no longer exist. These 102 schools either closed after having their voucher revenue cut off by the Department of Public Instruction, or simply shut their doors. The failure rate for entrepreneurial start-up schools is even worse: 67.8 percent.

Fredrik Andersson and I discuss these data in a new article just published online in Policy Studies Journal entitled “Determinants of Organizational Failure in the Milwaukee School Voucher Program.” We frame the article in the context of public and educational entrepreneurship “with the goal of explaining the factors that put voucher schools specifically, and public entrepreneurial public polices in general, at greater failure risk.” The Milwaukee voucher case is particularly fertile ground for this line of inquiry due its long history, organizational churn, and relevance as the birthplace of the modern school voucher movement.

We test several hypotheses using a survival model and find:

Start-up voucher schools have a much higher failure rate. It takes almost ten years for a new voucher school to lower its failure risk to that of previously existing schools;

When new MPCP schools fail they tend to fail quickly, on average just 4.3 years into program participation;

Schools without a religious affiliation are more likely to fail;

Stricter program regulations led to more failure; and

Schools can reduce their failure risk by gaining market-share.

Read his research article for the full findings.

Jay Greene, chairman of the Department of Educational Reform at the University of Arkansas, reaches a startling conclusion: Higher test do not necessarily translate into higher graduation rates or other life outcomes that matter.

This post pretty much blows away the rationale for corporate reform. How many times did we hear from Michelle Rhee, Joel Klein, Wendy Kopp, Arne Duncan, Bill Gates, and other “reform” leaders that charter schools get higher test scores than public schools? How many times have we heard from the Friedman Foundation and other cheerleaders for vouchers that vouchers are the key to higher test scores? But what if the higher test scores do not translate into better outcomes for students? What if Jay Greene is right? Perhaps the goal of schooling should be to teach a well-rounded education, character, and citizenship? Test scores don’t measure that.

This is one of the most important posts I have read in a very long time. I encourage you to read it.

Greene writes:

I’ve written several times recently about how short term gains in test scores are not associated with improved later life outcomes for students. Schools and programs that increase test score quite often do not yield higher high school graduation or college attendance rates. Conversely, schools and programs that fail to produce greater gains in test scores sometimes produce impressive improvements in high school graduation and college attendance rates, college completion rates, and even higher employment and earnings. I’ve described at least 8 studies that show a disconnect between raising test scores and stronger later life outcomes.

Well, now we have a 9th. Earlier this month MDRC quietly released a long-term randomized experiment of the effects of the SEED boarding charter school in Washington, DC. Because SEED is a boarding school, there was a lot of hope among reformers that it might be able to make a more profound difference for very disadvantaged students by having significantly more time to influence students and structure their lives. Of course, boarding schools also cost significantly more — in this case roughly twice as much as traditional non-residential schools.

While the initial test score results are very encouraging, the later life outcomes are disappointing. After two years students admitted to SEED by lottery outperformed those denied admission by lottery by 33% of a standard deviation in math and 23% in reading. If we judged the quality of schools entirely based on short term changes in test scores, as many reformers would like to do, we’d say this school was doing a great job.

In fact, SEED may be doing a great job in a variety of ways, but when we look at longer term outcomes for students on a variety of measures the evidence demonstrating SEED’s success disappears or even turns negative. Of the students accepted by lottery to SEED 69.3% graduate from high school after four years compared to 74.1% for the control group, a difference that is not statistically significant. And when asked about their likelihood of attending college, there was no significant difference between the two groups. SEED students also score significantly higher on a measure of engaging in risky behavior and lower on the grit scale….

If we think we can know which schools of choice are good and ought to be expanded and which are bad and ought to be closed based primarily on annual test score gains, we are sadly mistaken. Various portfolio management and “accountability” regimes depend almost entirely on this false belief that test scores reveal which are the good and bad schools. The evidence is growing quite strong that these strategies cannot properly distinguish good from bad schools and may be inflicting great harm on students. Given the disconnect between test scores and later life outcomes we need significantly greater humility about knowing which schools are succeeding.

The last time I checked (when reviewing “Waiting for ‘Superman'” in 2010, the cost of a SEED education was $35,000 per child; it is probably more now.

Be sure to open the link to read the full post, which is very informative.

Jeb is back, writes Peter Greene, with the same old snake oil. Having lost the GOP presidential nomination, he has returned to his favorite song: Public education is failing, and we (the reformers) need to disrupt it, monetize it, privatize it, and sell lots of technology to it.

As Peter shows, there is nothing new in what he has on offer. The same overworked and faulty statistics about massive educational failure (we would now be a fourth world nation if any of this baloney were true). The same claims about the wonders of technology. The same empty claims for privatization and profiteering. Merit pay. No unions. Test scores as the be-all and end-all of education.

Peter writes:

Jeb loves him some vouchers. In his perfect future, the money will follow the child. I always think this is a bold choice for a nominal conservative politician, since it is literally taxation without representation– taxpayers who don’t have kids get to pay for schools, but they have no voice in what kind of schools they get. And if the money follows the kid, why can’t the kid just have a big party?

But I have to take my hat off to somebody who still believes in vouchers. It’s the kind of devotion you usually find only in members of the Flat Earth Society, an adherence to a long-debunked belief that doesn’t have a speck of evidence to support it.

Float Free as a Bird

But why have a school at all, says Bush. Why not just get your AP Calculus from this on-line provider, and get your English from some other provider. Watch for the of homeschooling. Let students move through coursework at their own personal speed. Assess student mastery of skills through the year, and never social promote. Yes, we’ll have Competency Based Education, but we’ll call it something else.

Jeb’s answer to everything: get rid of public education.

Jeb Bush is the Ivan Illich of the right.

I recently posted a link to a Brookings Brief by Mark Dynarski, which warned that vouchers had not been successful in two states, Louisiana and Indiana. About the same time, the University of Arkansas released a research review that lauded vouchers. Although I did not know Dynarski, I contacted him and asked if he would explain the discrepancy for the readers of the blog. He graciously agreed.

He wrote:

In a recent article for Brookings, I highlighted recent research on vouchers to attend private schools that had found negative effects on student achievement. The same day, May 26, the Wall Street Journal published an editorial pointing to positive effects of school vouchers on student achievement, citing a review of studies published by researchers at the University of Arkansas. You asked if I could help readers understand the discrepancy.

In its reading of the University of Arkansas review, the Wall Street Journal included the review’s findings for voucher programs that operated in the US and programs that operated in Colombia and India. The largest positive effects of vouchers were from the program in Colombia. Education systems are quite different in other countries, however, and findings from Colombia and India have little relevance to debates about vouchers in the US today. If we ask about voucher programs that have operated in the US, the review reports that average effects of those programs is about zero.

The Louisiana and Indiana programs I focused on operated statewide. The negative effects reported for these programs could be a result of private schools being compared to higher-quality public schools in suburban and rural areas. Earlier voucher programs that reported positive results often operated in single cities—Milwaukee, New York City, Dayton, DC—which means studies of them essentially are comparing private schools only to urban public schools.

The Louisiana and Indiana programs also are recent, and my piece notes another possible explanation for their negative effects. Public schools have been under pressure for the last fifteen years to improve student achievement, which may have caused them to up their game. Recent research I cited concluded that public schools have substantially caught up with private schools. The National Assessment of Education Progress reports that private schools still have higher test scores than public schools, but those score differences could arise because of differences between private school students and public school students. The research approaches used in the Louisiana and Indiana studies allow for ‘apples to apples’ comparisons. Essentially the same students are compared in public and private schools and the test-score results favor public schools.

Vouchers will continue to be an important topic for discussion and debate, and we need to be open to new evidence and let our understanding of the world and of education be affected by it. I emphasized in my piece that our historical understanding that private schools perform better than public schools may be flawed. The University of Arkansas review is valuable for synthesizing a large amount of research on vouchers since the nineties into quantitative findings. The recent studies in Louisiana and Indiana are valuable for asking what the effects of vouchers might be today if a state were to begin a program or continue one. That the findings are negative means policymakers should proceed with caution—the relative positions of public and private schools may have changed.

I hope the discussion is useful for your readers, who rightly might feel a sense of whiplash from having different findings about vouchers released on the same day.

Kind regards,



Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 176,924 other followers