Hey Diane Ravitch, School Vouchers Do Work



OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA         I read people I disagree with.  I believe it is healthy to do so.  It sharpens you and opens you up to new ideas.  Diane Ravitch is one of those people I read.  She is a education historian and Research Professor of Education at New York University.  She and I do share a similar concern that the Common Core State Standards have not been field tested.  We don’t see eye to eye on school choice however.  She is the defender of public education and public school teachers and is hyper negative on school choice measures in particular when it is dealing with religious schools though she is an equal-opportunity basher of charter schools as well.

Today she wrote about how the Koch Brothers (part of the right-wing destroyer of public education conspiracy) didn’t believe that Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett pushed the voucher bill hard enough.  She then wrote this:

There is no reason for them to pay attention to the unimpressive results of twenty-one years of vouchers in Milwaukee, where kids in voucher schools got no better test scores than their peers in public schools. And no reason to pay attention to vouchers in D.C., where there were no test scores gains in either math or reading.

What matters most is to break the public education system.

A big hat-tip to my friend and colleague Jane Robbins who sent a couple links along after I sent an email rant.  Ravitch is throwing out there – vouchers don’t work!  She didn’t share any links or study that shows this.  She just threw that statement out there as if it were fact.  In fact vouchers do work and I’m sure the Koch Brothers are paying attention and because they know this information they are funding and pushing for vouchers.

So thank you Jane for this information.  First Milwaukee – the American Federation for Children back in February pointed to a study that shows not only do voucher students in Milwaukee have a better graduation rate than their public school counterparts, they also have better performance.

Among the new findings are that students enrolled in the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program (MPCP)—the nation’s oldest private school choice program currently in operation—not only graduate from high school on time by seven percentage points more than students enrolled in Milwaukee Public Schools (MPS), but they are also more likely to enroll in a four-year college and persist in college. Tracking of both MPCP and MPS students over a four-year period reveals significantly higher achievement growth in reading for MPCP students, as well as higher levels of science achievement in upper grades.

The study, released today by the School Choice Demonstration Project at the University of Arkansas, comes a year after data showed higher graduation rates for MPCP students. The new study is the most comprehensive look yet at the MPCP, which was expanded and strengthened during last year’s legislative session.

Patrick J. Wolf, the evaluation’s principal investigator, wrote in the study summary that the results are the “last word” on the nation’s first voucher program.

”Although we have examined virtually every possible way that school choice could systematically affect people, schools, and neighborhoods in Milwaukee, we have found no evidence of any harmful effects of choice,” Wolf wrote. He also noted that “participation in the MPCP or enrollment in an independent public charter school has produced better student outcomes than those experienced by similar students in MPS.”

The evaluation also revealed that that previous estimates of the number of students with special needs enrolled in the MPCP were significantly underreported by the Department of Public Instruction. Between 7.5 and 14.6 percent of students in the voucher program have a disability—at least four times the number reported by the state.

Also noteworthy is the effect that the continued growth and strengthening of the voucher program is having on Milwaukee Public Schools. Competitive pressure from the MPCP has raised public school achievement, and the study reported savings of nearly $52 million to the state during the last fiscal year.

So not only did they perform well, but competition raises the bar for everybody.  Dr. Ravitch, this is how the free market works.  Regarding the DC Opportunity Scholarship program a study done in 2010 shows that program has been a success as well.  I haven’t seen any studies for 2011 and 2012, but then again President Obama cut off funds in those years for the program so how could you do a study?  Cato Institute wrote about that study:

Even a tiny, restricted program that’s only been around for six years increases graduation rates, has a positive impact on at least some groups of students, harms no groups of students, and does this for less than a third of what the DC Public Schools spend.

DCPS spends around $28,000 per student. The last report pegged the average voucher at just$6,620. The maximum voucher cost is just $7,500.

Vouchers work, they provide better results with less money and they actually improve public education.  On top of this is the benefit that it empowers parents with choice for their kids.  Why should anybody be against that?

Please read our comment policy before leaving a comment.

  • http://twitter.com/ChasLauth C Lauth

    Shane, I get it.  Private school is expensive.  People pay taxes that fund public education whether they use the service or not.  For those who want to send their children to private or religious school, it is a financial burden.  

    I spent 12 years in Catholic school and now teach in public schools.  I’ve experienced both worlds.  Public education, in my experience, is very good, k-12.  I actually look back on my Catholic education and feel it was lacking – not so much on the high school level (I attended one of the best) but more so on the elementary level.  Resources were old, materials scarce and music and arts programs limited.  

    The reason why some private or religious schools demonstrate good results is mainly due to parental participation – helping out at the schools, motivating their children to do their best, making sure that they are getting the best bang for the buck.  Parental involvement takes place in public schools as well, but that often is the exception and not the rule – sadly.

    Our public education system has much to offer and is not as broken as many would like us to believe.  There is plenty of room for improvement, without a doubt.  But the notion of using public funds for private institutions is just antithetical to fixing public institutions and is simply a misuse of public funds.

    I’m greatly confused by those who cry “Free Markets!  Free Markets!” but then are more than willing to fund their private or religious educational ideology with public funds.

    There are a number of public schools that aren’t making the grade.  Very often, theses schools have students from varied backgrounds and come to school with various issues.  I will not go into detail as they have been discussed numerous times and would take up a great deal of room in this response.  They need to be fixed…maybe creating schools within schools so as to break up concentrations of pressing problems or issues…maybe making sure that funding formulas across states and districts show less disparity…all suggestions welcome.  Whatever the solution, it is needed.  As far as allowing parents choice, parents do have a choice: they can send their children to private schools whenever they want.  But as far as using public funds for those private schools, we’d be better off having parents exercise the choice of getting involved in their child’s education – just like we see parents doing in the private realm.  

    Public funds should not be used for private schools.