The Folly of Voucher Advocates?

voucher

A new study just came out showing that the Louisiana voucher program had negative effects on student achievement.

It’s one year of data on a new program, so I would caution against any grand proclamations on the usefulness of vouchers. There’s a much richer literature from which one can draw conclusions.

Perhaps more interesting is how voucher advocates reacted.

Jason Bedrick’s piece – The Folly of Overregulating Vouchers – criticized the Louisiana program for:

  • Not allowing tuition in excess of the vouchers.
  • Not allowing private schools to use selection criteria for admitting students.

I feel like I’m missing something.

The logical extension of Jason’s argument is that an all voucher education system would lead to a public education system where all schools would be allowed to reject students based on wealth, academic performance, and behavior.

Is this right?

Either voucher proponents have very different views of equity than most citizens, or they don’t really view vouchers as a replacement model for the current public education.

I’m curious – which is it?

Overall, I’m sympathetic to lowering barriers to entry (you have a crazy idea that parents will sign up for, go for it) and to reducing test based accountability (you and families think there’s a better way to measure school performance, go for it).

I understand the risks involved with this type of deregulation, but I think it’s worth trying and seeing what we learn. I don’t know if it would work, but it might, and the potential the upside seems high.

I also think there are things you can do to solve for equity (significantly weighting vouchers for at-risk students), that will lead to higher performing private schools enrolling hard to serve kids.

But, ultimately, I’m not ok with taking the public out of public education.

A system where every school can systematically discriminate based on wealth is not one that I want to be a part of.

Is this is where the voucher movement is heading, count me out.

If, on the other hand, the voucher movement is really about innovation, entrepreneurship, and family empowerment – then count me in.

Lastly, I have a ton of respect for people on all sides of this debate, so if I’m mischaracterizing anyone’s views, I’ll update the post.

But, admittedly, I found some of my voucher friends making arguments that, to me at least, were pretty unconvincing.

 

11 thoughts on “The Folly of Voucher Advocates?

  1. Jay P. Greene

    Does it bother you (or the public) that doctors can choose which patients they serve? Aren’t you satisfied that beneficiaries of medicare and medicaid can find a doctor who ill be right for them even if some doctors won’t take them as patients? And how is this different from schools?

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    1. nkingsl Post author

      Hey Jay – good to hear from you. Quick thoughts:

      It’s my understanding that doctors can’t charge above medicaid rates for medicaid patients – correct?

      If that’s the case, then I think the medicaid analogy actual supports my arguments.

      I don’t have any problems with fancy private schools charging a ton and parents with means paying for those schools – I just don’t think we should (a) give those parents vouchers or (b) allow those schools to charge those prices to voucher families.

      Private schools can serve whomever they want, but if they take public dollars, equity regulations will kick in.

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    2. Puget Sound Parent

      LOL! Unbelievably obtuse “analogy.” Surely, Jay, it’s obvious that you’re caught up in your own ideological fixation. Because even someone with your retrograde views can’t be so dumb as to actually make such a comparison.

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  2. Mike G

    I didn’t read Jason’s article exactly that way.

    You describe 2 conditions (no $, no admissions process). But Jason describes 2 more (no sibling preference, administer state tests). That doesn’t include what I’m guessing is a bunch of paperwork, btw.

    And if so, I read Jason’s point as some version of this:

    a. If you design a program that has “too many well-intended regs” and reach a tipping point so that only bad schools participate, then it’s “over-regulated” inherently.

    b. A regulator who seeks to introduce well-intended regs needs to say from the beginning “If the result of my regs is only bad schools participate, I have failed. From the jump, I need to define my optimal result as access to good schools for poor families. That may well put regs in competition with ‘good school participation.’ A good thing to do early on is talk to the schools I think are good, about under what conditions they’d participate.”

    For what it’s worth, I think that describes the Massachusetts charter cap lift in 2010. The Ed Secretary worked pretty hard on balancing regulations he wanted to impose (whether for public good or to get a political deal done), with constantly checking the good charters (is this something you could live with, or would you simply not replicate….the equivalent here to not participating in the voucher program).

    I can think of many “good faith” reasons why a good private school that was socially justice minded would still refuse to participate. Just as one example: it may be that having 2 tiers of admission creates really weird vibe in the student body that is unhealthy for all. Imagine a kid who is denied admission through the regular process, who then gets an automatic admission through the voucher — might create some pretty crazy parent/kid dynamics. “You didn’t even want me here.”

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    1. nkingsl Post author

      Thanks, Mike – I guess my head goes directly to: would this work if it replaced the current public system? If vouchers will just be a small piece of puzzle, I’m ok catering to privates a little more; but if they are going to scale, I think equity needs to come ahead of getting all the privates in.

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  3. Dan Dodd

    “The logical extension of Jason’s argument is that an all voucher education system would lead to a public education system where all schools would be allowed to reject students based on wealth, academic performance, and behavior.”

    I don’t see how this is a logical extension. State constitutions guarantee public education to children. There’s no way all public schools would legally be allowed to reject students based on wealth, academic performance, and behavior.

    It strikes me as strange that many assume the shortcomings of voucher programs and the lack of participation by high-performing private schools can be cured by giving more money. Many, if not most, high-performing private schools admit students who may be seen as high-risk or come from less than ideal backgrounds, so long as the student is capable of carrying the workload. Schools that admit such students make it work through financial aid and other means. Money is likely not the main issue. What is the main issue is all of the other rules and regulations (some of which are incredibly arbitrary) that go along with these programs make it undesirable to participate in the program.

    Once voucher programs start to account for the independence of high-performing private schools, and recognize that the autonomy those schools have is the main reason for their high performance, you’ll see more schools participating. Throwing more money at them and hoping they’ll join won’t cut it.

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  4. Travis Pillow (@travispillow)

    There seems to be a Kantian premise here – that voucher programs should be designed as though they could one day serve all children. The reality is that in most places, they serve some time fraction of children, typically less than five percent of students.

    If we look at vouchers as an add-on to the rest of the system, aimed specifically at low-income families (the reality in most existing programs), can we tolerate admissions standards and other practices that might not fly in an all-voucher system – or even in a system where vouchers rival the size of charter charters and other options?

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  5. Kenneth Campbell (@KenCampbell65)

    As a strong proponent of the Louisiana voucher program, this conversation is very interesting to me…

    We started this program as a way to give low-income students access to private schools that might be better able to meet their educational needs. Along the way, we’ve learned a few things:

    First, those of us who are proponents shouldn’t act as if “excessive regulation” is the primary barrier to really strong private schools participating in the scholarship program. Our on-the-ground experience is that many of these schools have a threshold in mind of how many and what type of students they can and will serve in order to maintain their program and keep harmony in their school. So, while we’ve talked to some schools that are sincere in their concerns about the regulations, many more simply did not want certain types of children in their schools. In fact, we had one school leader publicly agree to take 5 kids in kindergarten before his parents got to him and made him withdraw the offer. So, it might make us uncomfortable, but we have to acknowledge that many of the private schools in Louisiana were started specifically so that parents could get away from certain kids. Having a voucher program is not gonna make them change.

    Second, it is also important to note that when we launched the scholarship program, many of the best schools would only commit to potentially enrolling a really small number of children. None of them were going to open the floodgates and let large numbers of low-income children into their schools, so I’m not sure that overall performance would be much better even with their participation. It was encouraging that some school leaders had the courage to admit that they didn’t have expertise in educating children living in poverty.

    The single biggest mistake that I think was made was when lawmakers supported the policy that would not allow newly created private schools to serve more than 20% scholarship students in their first two years. Many of us felt this was a big mistake. We argued instead for a “new school approval process” that would be sort of a “charter lite” application process that new private schools could go through to allow them to serve unlimited voucher students right away. The reason we argued for this was because we wanted to bring to the scholarship program the kind of deliberate, mission-aligned planning process that has allowed great success with charters. We knew that simply relying on the private schools we already had was not sufficient. Sadly, we lost this argument.

    I am, however, confident that we’ll begin to see stronger results soon. Cristo Rey (which has incredibly strong results) is opening a high school in Baton Rouge this fall and Hope Christian Schools (which operates a strong network in Milwaukee) will be opening in 2017. Hopefully we’ll have others as well.

    At the end of the day, if this program is going to be successful, we need private schools that want to serve significant numbers of students living in poverty and that can provide a superior educational experience for them. The vast majority of private schools we have now can’t and don’t want to do that.

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  6. Adam Hawf

    Well put, Ken! In particular:

    “First, those of us who are proponents shouldn’t act as if “excessive regulation” is the primary barrier to really strong private schools participating in the scholarship program. Our on-the-ground experience is that many of these schools have a threshold in mind of how many and what type of students they can and will serve in order to maintain their program and keep harmony in their school. So, while we’ve talked to some schools that are sincere in their concerns about the regulations, many more simply did not want certain types of children in their schools. In fact, we had one school leader publicly agree to take 5 kids in kindergarten before his parents got to him and made him withdraw the offer. So, it might make us uncomfortable, but we have to acknowledge that many of the private schools in Louisiana were started specifically so that parents could get away from certain kids. Having a voucher program is not gonna make them change.”

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  7. Puget Sound Parent

    All of you guys are splitting hairs here. It’s hilarious on one level, sickening on another.
    You ALL share one thing in common: you’re being paid, directly or indirectly, by pro-privatization interests. And you lie and rationalize on a daily basis to justify what some of you know, deep down, is horrific behavior.

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