Advantage, public schools

Christopher Lubienski and Sarah Theule Lubienski challenged conventional wisdom when they published research that found public schools were better than private schools at boosting student achievement.

Book cover The Public School AdvantageFive years later, their conclusions have been confirmed several times over – especially by studies of state voucher programs that provide public funding for students to attend private schools.

“In the last four years, every study of student achievement in voucher programs has found large negative impacts, except for a couple of studies that found no impact,” Christopher Lubienski said recently. “The programs are hurting the learning outcomes of children using the vouchers.”

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Voucher program serves the top 20 percent

Over 1,300 households that participate in Indiana’s school voucher program have incomes over $100,000, according to the 2018-19 voucher report from the Indiana Department of Education.

That puts them in the top 20 percent of Hoosier households by income. So much for the argument that the voucher program, created in 2011, exists to help poor children “trapped” in low-performing schools.

Like previous state reports on the voucher program, the current report paints a picture of a program that primarily promotes religious education and serves tens of thousands of families that could afford private school tuition without help from the taxpayers.

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Study: Indiana voucher students fall behind in math

Students who use Indiana’s voucher program to transfer from public to private schools aren’t seeing the test-score gains they may have expected. When it comes to academics, they could be better off staying in their local public schools, according to a long-awaited study released today.

The study, by Joe Waddington of the University of Kentucky and Mark Berends of the University of Notre Dame, finds that voucher students experience significant losses in mathematics achievement after they transfer to private schools. Receiving a voucher did not have a significant effect on English/language arts test performance.

The findings are based on a detailed and rigorous analysis of ISTEP-Plus scores for students who received private school vouchers in the first four years of Indiana’s program.

The study follows a spate of negative evaluations of voucher programs in Ohio, Louisiana and Washington, D.C. But Indiana’s program is especially helpful to study. It’s the nation’s largest and most generous voucher program, enrolling more than 34,000 students; and it is unusual in that private schools that participate must administer state standardized tests the same as public schools.

You can read a detailed report on the study on the National Public Radio website.

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Private schools that got voucher waivers were losing state funding

Four schools jumped to the front of the line when the Indiana legislature offered to waive accountability requirements for low-performing private schools that benefit from state-funded tuition vouchers.

And no wonder. Those four religious schools had seen their voucher funding drop by over $1.2 million in two years after being sanctioned for persistently low marks on the state’s A-to-F school grading system.

The law that legislators approved this spring says private schools can have the sanctions waived if a majority of their students demonstrated “academic improvement” in the preceding year. It doesn’t spell out what academic improvement means, leaving it to the State Board of Education to decide.

The board voted 6-2 last week to approve one-year waivers for the schools that requested them: Central Christian Academy, Trinity Lutheran and Turning Point School in Indianapolis and Lutheran South Unity School in Fort Wayne. As a result, the schools can resume adding voucher-funded students this fall.

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Indiana public schools ‘out-grow’ charter, private schools

School-choice advocates argue that children will get a better education if they can leave public schools for charter or private schools, especially in urban areas. The Indiana Growth Model tells a different story.

It suggests public schools, overall, are performing better than charter schools or the private schools — most of them religious schools — that are getting state vouchers.

The growth model is a statistical tool that measures students’ test-score gains compared to those of students with similar academic histories. It may not be perfect, and critics argue that it shouldn’t be over-used. But it’s unquestionably a better measure of school effectiveness than standardized test scores or school grades, which have been shown to correlate closely to student demographics.

You can download 2012-13 growth scores for all the schools in the state from the Indiana Department of Education website. Sort and rank them, and what do they show? Continue reading

Tax credits for private-school scholarship donations: Yes, Indiana has them

The New York Times reported this week on abuses in state programs that provide generous tax breaks for donations that fund scholarships for private K-12 schools.

The article, which focused on Georgia, Pennsylvania and Arizona, said the programs were created to “help needy students escape struggling public schools.” Instead, they’ve turned into a way for religious schools to milk the public treasury, often to benefit families who could afford tuition without help.

“This school year alone, the programs redirected nearly $350 million that would have gone into public budgets to pay for private school scholarships for 129,000 students, according to the Alliance for School Choice, an advocacy organization,” the Times says.

The article says eight states have programs that provide tax credits for donations that are funneled to private schools through nonprofit “scholarship granting organizations.” And yes, Indiana is one of them.

Indiana’s tax-credit scholarship program is small and limited to low- or middle-income families. On the other hand, Indiana last year enacted the nation’s most extensive voucher program, in which the state – not private donors – gives money to parents to send their children to private schools.

Some of the Christian schools that receive voucher funding in Indiana provide the same A Beka and Bob Jones curricula as the sectarian schools described by the Times, rejecting evolution, teaching that God created the world in six days and presenting a politically biased picture of American history. Continue reading

Why not ban private schools?

Super-investor Warren Buffett has received a lot of ink lately for his assertion that he and other rich people should pay taxes at as high a rate as ordinary working folks. But maybe you haven’t heard about another Buffett proposal, one that is equally provocative: Ban private schools.

It’s apparently not a new idea for Buffett, but it got renewed notice in January with a Time magazine cover story. “He’s only half joking when he says he’d like to see private schools banned so that rich families would be forced to invest in the public K-12 system,” wrote Rana Foroohar.

Jason Kamras, chief of human capital with the District of Columbia Public Schools, endorsed and elaborated on the idea in a recent Q&A with Hechinger Report. What’s required, he said, is eliminating not only private schools but any form of school choice: No charter schools, magnet schools or home-schooling. Everyone’s children would attend public schools, with assignments made by lottery.

As a result, Kamras suggested, engaged and empowered parents, instead of trying to find the best school for their own child, would devote their energy to making sure their kid’s school is the best it can be. “If these changes were put into place, how fast would it take to turn things around?” he said. “Five minutes? Ten?”

Michelle Rhee, the former Washington, D.C., schools chancellor, supported the idea in a 2010 essay, attributing it to Buffett. She later made an apparent about-face, becoming an aggressive champion of parental choice, even advocating publicly funded vouchers for private schools.

Pasi Sahlberg, the author of Finnish Lessons: What Can the World Learn from Educational Change in Finland?, says Finland doesn’t allow private education – and that’s one of the secrets of its success in combining excellence with equity.

Of course, private schools won’t be outlawed in America, which has a long history of religious education – and where the idea that successful people can do whatever they want with their money is almost a religion in itself. The Supreme Court would no doubt find a right to private schooling in the Constitution.

But the value of the “thought experiment,” as Kamras calls it, is that it lets us imagine how things might be different if all parents had a personal stake in ensuring that every school served the needs of all its students. Would so-called education reformers still argue that class size doesn’t matter when talking about their own children’s schools? Would they insist that money isn’t important? Would they applaud a single-minded focus on raising test scores in math and reading?

Or would we find a way to create schools that provide rich opportunities for all, for “other people’s children” as well as our own?

Plucker blogging at Ed Week

Indiana University professor and Center for Evaluation and Education Policy director Jonathan Plucker is guest posting this week on the Rick Hess Straight Up blog at Education Week.

Plucker kicked off Monday with a piece on the PISA and TIMSS international assessments – and how Americans typically draw the wrong lessons from the way our students’ scores compare with those of students from other countries.

According to an IU news release, look for Plucker to also write about “excellence gaps” between high-achieving white, Asian-American, African-American and Hispanic children; the No Child Left Behind Act waivers that the U.S. Department of Education is granting; and Indianapolis Star columnist Matthew Tully’s recent book about a year at Indianapolis Manual High School.