The Family is Not Too Far Apart: Me, Jay Greene, and the Voucher State

Jay just wrote a useful response to my last post. I continue to learn from the back and forth, and I appreciate that Jay continues to push. Once you get into philanthropy, the risk is that everyone just tells you that you’re always right, so I really appreciate the debate.

Jay puts forth the following vision for choice systems:

  1. Government should only very selectively close schools, and when it does show it should look at more than test scores.
  2. Schools should be allowed to have their own admissions and expulsions processes. Equity can be achieved through per-pupil funding weights for disadvantage and hard to reach students.
  3. We shouldn’t be the farm on charters. We need choice amongst choice.

Jay then ends his post with:

“I’m pretty confident that the high regulation strategy being pursued in LA and New Orleans is a really bad idea.”

My thoughts:

1. Jay continues to play it loose with evidence. He is pretty confident that the New Orleans reforms are a really bad idea, despite the fact the New Orleans reforms have achieved greater results than any of the voucher evidence he sites! Yes, it’s not a RCT, but the effects on achievement (test scores) and attainment (high school graduation rates) are very positive and significant: .2-.4 effects on test scores and ~20 percent increase in high school graduation rates. I don’t understand why Jay makes bold claims, both positive and negative, that far exceed what the research seems to warrant.

2. All that being said, I’m open (but not very confident) that a more deregulated voucher system could lead to even better results in New Orleans and elsewhere. So if we’re talking about pilots and experiments, the family is not too far apart.

3. As for closing schools, I generally think test scores are the best way to do it because once you get into more subjective criteria I worry that schools will never close. So I’m ok setting the bar pretty low (perhaps being in the bottom 2-5% of schools in the state for multiple years in a row), but generally I’m in favor of clear cut lines rather than bureaucratic (and political) judgment calls.

4. I’m open to the idea that funding weights might get you 80% of what you want with equity while also significantly increasing the amount of schools that participate in choice. It is also worth noting that the Nevada funding weights are, in my opinion, not close to where they’d need to be to get the incentives right. But if weights got up to 50-100% increases for low-income, I think the model would be worth trying.

So I’d be very interested in experimenting with state regulations where performance accountability was clear but targeted at the very lowest performing schools and significant funding weights were the main tool for equity.

Would this work better than the more regulated New Orleans charter environment?

I really don’t know.

But it seems worth trying.

2 thoughts on “The Family is Not Too Far Apart: Me, Jay Greene, and the Voucher State

  1. Andrew Cox (@acox)

    I’m trying to wrap my head around the idea of achieving funding through equity weights. Part of the problem is that, coming from a charter school background, I have have trouble empathizing with a selective private school mindset, and so don’t really know what motivates their choices.

    Saying that we can achieve equity with finding weights misses an important dimension of what I think many advocates and parents mean when they say equity. Funding weights may help move the aggregate state performance of disadvantaged subgroups toward the state average. I assume this is largely what you meant by “80% of the way,” Neerav. But, at least from my experience in New Orleans, I think when parents refer to “equity” they also mean, “My child will be treated fairly.” Many of the complaints about the New Orleans charter system before OneApp were from parents whose children were pushed out of schools because of difficult behavior or special needs. I don’t know how weighted funding would address behavior issues. And weighted funding for a student with a specific IEP might not be enough money for a school to want to accept one student with that need without a critical mass of students. (For example, enough students to hire a dedicated severe and profound teacher.) Which means that when a parent brings their child to that school, under a weighted funding system the school might still reject the child because he would be a behavior issue of because they “can’t serve” his special need. These are exactly the experiences that angered parents (rightly) in New Orleans before OneApp. And I don’t think merely decreasing their frequency truly addresses the equity issue. A school system is not equitable until all of its students are treated with dignity.


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