The Electric Commentary

Friday, January 06, 2006

More on Vouchers...

at Jay Bullock's place. Jay's been keeping me busy in the post underneath this one, and if you want an informed opinion that runs counter to my own, click here, and here.

One point that I never did see addressed is my contention that voucher schools, even given the poor schools that sometimes abuse the voucher program, are obviously more accountable than public schools. If they fail for any length of time, they will close, and if they are run by incompetent crooks, the state will shut them down. Given that there are two separate avenues that can be used to destroy a failing voucher school, and none to destroy a failing public school, how can anyone argue that public schools are more accountable?

14 Comments:

  • I don't have time before my lunch is over to find the links to disprove that parents are shutting down inadequate voucher schools, but you can find them in Milwaukee Magazine last fall, the Milwaukee paper last June, and several non-partisan studies released in 2004: Researchers and reporters have found that quality is seldom near the top of the reasons why parents select certain voucher schools. Two more things:

    1. The DPI was granted the authority to shut down voucher schools less than two years ago, 14 years into the existence of the program.

    2. Mechanisms exist to shut down public schools. The school where I teach now, for example, was closed down and reconstituted a couple of years before I started here. States have always had the authority to take over and shut down schools and districts--it's happened in Philadelphia, Chicago, Oakland, and more. The penalty options under NCLB make it even easier for states to shut down failing schools and failing districts. To say that there are no avenues to destroy a public school is untrue.

    And at least in the case of public schools, the public has access to a wide range of data which show whether or not a school or district is failing and needs shutting down. With voucher schools, we have no way to know how and how well our tax dollars are being spent.

    By Blogger Jay Bullock, at 12:18 PM  

  • Is the information that the public has access too more accurate than the information that an individual parent has about their children's school? If we can't trust a parent to decide correctly (and that is what you are implying), why put your faith in a faceless bureaucracy? The "Public" is just a bunch of individuals, and the "public" does not have superior information because the "public" does not care as much about an individual child as the child's parents do.

    If some parents feel that quality isn't an important factor, that is unfortunate, but not dispositive of anything. Pehaps proximity or community is important for them, and they will sacrifice some quality, or perhaps they are just bad parents. That's too bad, but that doesn't justify removing the choice of a student with parents who do care.

    Voucher students do have all of the choices that I listed earlier, by the way. They can choose charter shcools, public schools, or voucher schools. I am notwrong about that. It is unfortunate that non-voucher students lack all of those choices.

    By Blogger PaulNoonan, at 1:31 PM  

  • I believe that charter schools have had to meet strict standards or they are/were shut down. Also, not all voucher schools are entirely dependent on vouchers. Many are private schools with only a portion of voucher students. These schools may risk losing their voucher rights, but will not be shut down and may survive off the overall increased quality of students who attend them, rather than quality of teaching. I went to a private school that taught us very little in many areas compared to my brother and my friends in public school, but the students from it were successful because most of them had rich parents who made them do their homework. We were not getting a better education, instead the school had an inherent advantage that offset what in many instances was inferior education.

    Also, I agree that parents who care are more likely to respond to school quality differences by withdrawal of their child. This is a much easier process than what I suspect is a protracted, bureaucratic, political struggle to shut down a school. That said, your dismissal of any "superior information" of the public is a bit crude as they are not necessarily "just a bunch of individuals" as some of them have expertise in child education and well being that parents do not. Choice certainly has benefits, but it also has costs. These costs come mainly in time and effort. Furthermore some parents simply lack the sophistication and abiliity to judge good schools. Reputation may offset this, but based on the amount of urban myths and many people's resistance to shutting down bad local schools because they believe it is just because of discrimination, not quality, I don't think it is always enough in the areas that most need improving. Especially because reputation may be based on things that do not accurately reflect educational quality.

    By Anonymous Scott H, at 5:46 PM  

  • Voucher students do have all of the choices that I listed earlier, by the way. They can choose charter shcools, public schools, or voucher schools.

    Um, no. "Voucher students" are only called that once they are in a "voucher school." There is no such thing as a "voucher student" at a public school (including charters). You would do well to study up a little bit on the process. There is no magical pool of "voucher students" that parents have to jockey to have their children accepted into. If families meet the income requirement, they submit an application to a school and, upon acceptance to that school, they become "voucher students." Here's the key: Absolutely any student whose family meets the income requirement can apply to absolutely any of the "voucher schools." Period. All Milwaukee schoolchildren (subject to family income limits)--every single one--"can choose charter shcools, public schools, or voucher schools," as you phrased it.

    There is no substantive difference between a student in a voucher school (sometimes called a choice school) and a student in a public school. The public school kid has not been unfairly excluded from the opportunity to attend a private school on a voucher; rather, his or her parents didn't want to apply to a voucher school, for whatever reason. Choice and voucher supporters who make that argument about the poor kids "stuck" in MPS simply are not cognizant of the facts.

    The caveat, of course, is that all of that will change next year because legislative Republicans have been unwilling to work toward a compromise with legislative Democrats and the governor because they see this as a great campaign issue. Next year we will have, for the first time in 16 years of the program, students who really will be excluded from participating. To this point, though, that just has not happened.

    Again, as to parents' shutting down voucher schools and so forth, the best work in the field is by Van Dunk and Dickman at the Public Policy Forum. Several of the studies linked there will be of interest to you, including the "Educational Consumers" one (in which they explicitly note that so little information is available to parents that the market theory falls completely apart) and the one noting that in general, MPS schools offer more variety and creative solutions than the city's charter schools.

    By Blogger Jay Bullock, at 5:53 PM  

  • You say tomato...

    There is no magical pool of "voucher students" that parents have to jockey to have their children accepted into. If families meet the income requirement, they submit an application to a school and, upon acceptance to that school, they become "voucher students."

    Ergo, only students that meet voucher school requirements have access to all three, ergo my interpretation is in fact correct, no matter what you "call" voucher students before they enter school. Q.E.D.

    And if you're so interested in process, you haven't really shown much interest as of yet.

    My point is still correct, and you have yet to offer any substantive evidence refuting it. Your evidence consists largely of calling parents stupid.

    And again you refute to the tired ,and objectively untrue argument that MPS offers enough choice.

    NOT if someone chooses something else. That is simply not the case.

    One thing that I am well acquainted with is MPS's supposed creativity and variety, and the fact is that most MPS schools are wretched by and decent standard, and that most MPS teachers will tell you so, at least if you talk to them at a bar after a few beers.

    By Blogger PaulNoonan, at 1:18 AM  

  • you refute to the tired ,and objectively untrue argument that MPS offers enough choice.
    Paul, please find anywhere in my comments that I said MPS has "enough" choice. I have said that MPS offers a great deal of variety, creativity, and quality in its more than 200 programs. I never said anybody had to be happy with it; I just wanted to demonstrate that Chris's argument, in particular, that he had "no real choice" was specious.

    you have yet to offer any substantive evidence refuting it. Your evidence consists largely of calling parents stupid.
    I haven't called parents stupid. I have repeated what the best research and reporting on the matter shows, which is that voucher parents in general do not use academic "quality" as a factor in their selection. Even Howard Fuller, whose middle name I think is "Vouchers," has admitted that "The reality is that [the marketplace] hasn't worked like we thought it would in theory."

    Let me ask you: In an earlier comment, you said, "If some parents feel that quality isn't an important factor, that is unfortunate, but not dispositive of anything. Pehaps proximity or community is important for them, and they will sacrifice some quality." Why are you willing to allow parents that option for their voucher decisions but not for their public school decisions? Not to suggest that we ought to leave low-performing schools in a state of failure, of course. But is it reasonable for you to demand that we shut down public schools when the parents of children there may like the community or proximity?

    [O]nly students that meet voucher school requirements have access to all three.
    Also not correct. The income requirements are there on the voucher program so that taxpayers are not subsidizing the cost of private school for those who can already afford it. When I talk to liberals about vouchers, many of them are warm to the idea because, as they correctly point out, the wealthy and the middle class have had de facto "choice" all along. The Milwaukee Parental Choice Program exists to ensure that parents who are not wealthy or middle class (i.e., not parents who already have the option and the wherewithall to send their children to private schools) can afford private schools. Do you somehow think that now wealthier families are barred from acess to private schools for their kids?

    In other words, before the MPCP, some families "had access to all three." Now that MPCP is in effect, all parents have "access to all three." I know that it is hard to see past years and years of rhetoric about how the "cap" has shut students out of voucher schools, and how the Evil Teachers Union is trapping students in failing schools. But to say that is a lie.

    By Blogger Jay Bullock, at 8:40 AM  

  • and the one noting that in general, MPS schools offer more variety and creative solutions than the city's charter schools.

    There is no study capable of capturing this data. If parents are drawn away from this variety and these creative solutions, then they are mislabeled as such.

    If your last paragraph is true, than simply remove all caps from the voucher program, (but do shut down hucksters, these need not be mutually exclusive) and let the best school win.

    In the Fuller article that you linked to, once again, a lousy school was closed down. Is that the best example that the JS could find? A situation where the program actually did its job? Why no mentions of failing schools that are still operating? They wrote the article as if they have such data, so why not print a list of names of failing charter schools so that they can be closed?

    Was MPs engaging in such variety and creativity before reform became an issue, I wonder? THat is the other aspect of the program that people have yet to mention.

    By Blogger PaulNoonan, at 3:16 PM  

  • Paul, in one paragraph, you have managed to include everything about this debate with you that is frustrating me madly:
    In the Fuller article that you linked to, once again, a lousy school was closed down. Is that the best example that the JS could find? A situation where the program actually did its job? Why no mentions of failing schools that are still operating? They wrote the article as if they have such data, so why not print a list of names of failing charter schools so that they can be closed?

    To start with, your use of the word charter at the end there may have been a typo this time. If it was not, then again, you're confusing two utterly distinct and different concepts. You can already find out how any given charter school is doing, because all of them--charters--must collect and report the same data as other public schools. The information is on the net, if you wanted to Google it.

    But more to the point: There is no way to compile a "list of failing [voucher] schools," because there are no data available for them. They are not required to collect or publish any performance data at all. Period. Full stop.

    As for "a lousy school closed down," that school was not closed by parents. We're talking here about the failure of parental choice to create a marketplace of success, closing failing schools. Fact is, one school ever in this program closed because parents rejected it. One. Out of more than 150 that have participated. One. It was maybe not the "best" example the paper could find, but it supported the article's thesis, that parents aren't closing down failing schools, often unaware of financial or academic fraud going on in those schools. We can't "let the best school win" if there's no way to know what school is best--or worst.

    And I'm not calling parents stupid. The schools are almost entirely to blame, since they do not collect or publish any performance data.

    By Blogger Jay Bullock, at 4:08 PM  

  • "Charter Schools" was a typo, BTW. I'm reading a book on charter schools right now and it's stuck in my head.

    Jay, I've got to hand it to you, you make an excellent case. Much like the gay marriage debate, for me, things like vouchers and charter schools are second best solutions, because, in my opinion, providing education (at least, being the provider of education) is not the business of the state.

    I can easily imagine a few large problems with voucher schools:

    1. It appears to be too easy to fleece the state into giving you money. I've no desire to see bad schools of any kind propser, and I would like to see entry barriers to getting state cash for a voucher school more along the lines of a venture captial form and less along the lines of turning in 4 Mountain Dew proofs of purchase fora free Mountain Dew sweatshirt.

    2. When parents do not spend their own money, they are less likely put effort into spending that money wisely.

    3. In similar fashion, when there are so many other entities providing some kind of oversight, even if it's not comprehensive or effective, like groups that are opposed to voucher schools, the Paper, etc., parents may feel that their responsibility to do research has been replaced by those with more authority than they.

    4. While you may not be willing to call some parents stupid, I am. If your kid is in a failing school and you've asctually gone through some bother to get them there, you are a bad parent. There may not be any studies for these parents to consult, but most parents can tell just from their kids, by taking an active interest, studies or no studies.

    I think that their could be significant improvemnts in voucher schools, but I still believe that the idea is sound, and there are successful voucher schools out there.

    I have bigger issues with the internal working of public education, but that is for a different argument at a different time.

    And I assure you that I haven'tbeen brainwashed by conservatives on evil teachers unions and failing public schools. I dislike all unions, especially public sector unions, for reasons that I've detailed elsewhere on this blog, but I don't think that individual teachers are evil, they are simply taking advantage of what the law allows. I can't fault anyone for that.

    Finally, I think that one of the biggest problems with public schools is their funding mechanism. Property taxes mean that poor kids go to poor schools, rich kids go to rich schools, and that rich people can more easily move to escape bad schools.

    By Blogger PaulNoonan, at 12:14 PM  

  • in my opinion, providing education (at least, being the provider of education) is not the business of the state.

    What then, in your view is the proper role for the state in education? Regulation, funding, complete disinvolvement?

    By Anonymous Scott H, at 2:11 PM  

  • To help poor people afford it.

    By Blogger PaulNoonan, at 2:44 PM  

  • I'm very open to the idea that government run schools may not be the best situation, but there are many potential aspects in which I am concerned that a predominantly private, market-based system would fail.* Although I believe that funding or regulatory solutions could be worked out to address these areas, I think your answer is far too simplistic and demonstrates perhaps too much of a blind faith in the ability of market principles to solve problems without any government involvement.

    * These include rural or sparsely populated areas, implementation of basic standards, relative equality of opportunity (which I do not believe would be significantly improved), and public policy / diversity of subjects because many parents are ignorant of precisely what their children's education should consist of.

    By Anonymous Scott H, at 5:00 PM  

  • Jay, I've got to hand it to you, you make an excellent case.
    [blows on knuckles, rubs on chest] Thanks, Paul.

    I can easily imagine a few large problems with voucher schools: 1. It appears to be too easy to fleece the state into giving you money. I've no desire to see bad schools of any kind propser, and I would like to see entry barriers to getting state cash.
    I'm all about that. How about helping me out and writing your senator and assemblyperson?

    2. When parents do not spend their own money, they are less likely put effort into spending that money wisely.
    But voucher parents aren't spending "their own money"; they're spending my money, and your money, and all of our money. We deserve some accountability too, you know.

    Finally, I think that one of the biggest problems with public schools is their funding mechanism. Property taxes mean that poor kids go to poor schools, rich kids go to rich schools, and that rich people can more easily move to escape bad schools.
    You and I are not that far apart on much of this. Of course, you lose me at this part:

    in my opinion, providing education (at least, being the provider of education) is not the business of the state.
    Then you're in the wrong state. We do it because 150-some years ago, they decided to write it into our constitution. There are ways to make public education better; holding it hostage to campaign season is not the way.

    By Blogger Jay Bullock, at 8:28 PM  

  • Re: Point #2 above, I am actually agreeing with you completely. I was pointing out an inefficiency in the voucher program. Parents do not spend their own money in the program, ergo it is not as efficient as it could be.

    Article X of the Wisconsin Constitution does indeed mandate public education, but that doesn't mean I have to like it. Just because it is the law, does not make it right.

    By Blogger PaulNoonan, at 9:36 PM  

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