I’m not sure.
Here are things I’m somewhat sure (70%?) about:
- State governments should require all K12 schools that receive public funds to take a singular, rigorous test that is administered in a manner that reduces cheating.
- State governments should create a letter grading system that assigns letter grades to schools based on their performance on this test. These letter grades should be weighted at least 50% toward growth.
- City government and non-governmental organizations should widely publicize these letter grades.
- State or city governments should operate an efficient, centralized enrollment process that only requires families to submit one form when ranking school preferences.
- Funding should be allocated to schools based on how many students they serve, as well as how at-risk this student population is.
Here is one thing I have promoted in the past but remain unsure about:
- Government should close or reconstitute a school that consistently receives a “D” or “F” rating – even if parents desire to send their children to this school.
In short, I believe there are huge information problems around the quality of education schools are delivering, and I’m willing to sacrifice a significant amount of school autonomy (in the form of standards and assessments) to provide information on school quality to parents (and to the general public).
Additionally, I’m willing to sacrifice some amount of statistical precision to ensure that this information is digestible to parents.
However, I also believe that:
- Parents should have power to choose schools that they feel will serve their children well.
- Test scores aren’t everything.
- While I generally support the data governments currently use for accountability, I can imagine a world where I did not.
- The political costs of closing schools are very high.
- Choice reforms might be much more accepted by the public if they were not connected to school closure.
- Over time, good information and open enrollment access could lead to the closure of many of these poorly rated schools anyway (due to under-enrollment) – so that student achievement could increase faster over the long run due to less political battles.
Much of this is based on my experience in New Orleans, where letter grades, coupled with centralized enrollment, has increased the percentage of parents making high-quality choices (as measured by test scores, which are not perfect, but generally a useful measure) – and where we received significant pushback in closing schools.
Or to put it another way, reform might be better off if a superintendent could say:
“This school is closing because the community did not feel it was good enough to send their children here. Next year, we will open a school in its place that hopefully better meets the needs of the community.”
Of course, the transformation process could still be politically difficult. But it might be perceived as (and be) more legitimate.
Whatever you might believe on this issue, the tensions between achievement, efficiency, community, and liberty will not being going away anytime soon.