Scores drop when students move to private, magnet schools

Students who leave neighborhood public schools for private or magnet schools tend to fall behind academically in the year after they transfer, according to a new study of school choice in Indianapolis.

Students who move to charter schools don’t fall behind, but neither do they move ahead. Their performance is about the same as if they had stayed in their neighborhood school, the study finds.

The authors of the study, Mark Berends at the University of Notre Dame and R. Joseph Waddington of the University of Kentucky, say the findings don’t discredit the potential benefits of school choice, but they raise questions about the conditions under which choice might be a strategy for improving academic achievement.

“It’s sort of a cautionary tale, that school choice is not a panacea,” said Berends, a professor of sociology and director of Notre Dame’s Center for Research on Educational Opportunity.

The study, “School Choice in Indianapolis:  Effects of Charter, Magnet, Private, and Traditional Public Schools,” has been accepted for publication and posted by the journal Education Finance and Policy.

Berends and Waddington analyzed several years of ISTEP test math and English/language arts scores for Indianapolis students in grades 3-8. The students attended neighborhood and magnet schools in public school districts as well as charter schools and private schools in the city. Magnet schools are public schools organized around themes, such as international engagement, foreign language immersion and Montessori education; students typically apply for admission to the schools.

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Data on choice-segregation link easy to find

Jennifer McCormick, the Republican candidate for Indiana superintendent of public instruction, said this week that she wants to see the data tying school choice to segregation. It’s not hard to find.

A good place to start is the excellent series of stories on race and segregation in Indianapolis schools produced this summer by Chalkbeat Indiana, WFIU and the Indianapolis Star. One story describes how charter schools became some of the most segregated schools in the city, many of them nearly all African-American and a few largely white. Another tells about an Indianapolis Public Schools magnet school where most students are white and almost none qualify for free school lunch.

Here are a few other sources, local and national:

  • Marc Stein, an education professor at Johns Hopkins University, published an article in 2015 showing charter school choice in Indianapolis produced “higher degrees of racial isolation and less diversity.” Black students enrolled in charter schools with more black students than the public schools they left; and white students enrolled in charters with more white students. Charters were becoming more racially isolated.
  • A study this summer from three leading educational researchers finds that schools have become significantly more segregated by family income in the past two decades. A factor, they say, is the growth of school choice programs, with affluent families taking advantage to place their children in more desirable schools, regardless of where they live.
  • A new study by Steven Glazerman and Dallas Dotter of Mathematica Policy Research looks at the factors that cause parents to rate some choice schools better than others. They find that white parents, especially, favor schools where more students were of their own race and class. “Teacher Wars” author Dana Goldstein writes about the study in Slate.
  • A research review by William J. Mathis and Kevin Welner for the National Education Policy Center finds choice leads to segregation. “While some choice school enrollments are genuinely integrated,” they write, “the overall body of the research literature documents an unsettling degree of segregation—particularly in charter schools—by race and ethnicity, as well as by poverty, special needs and English-learner status.”
  • The Civil Rights Project at UCLA has documented segregation in charter schools for years. A policy paper from the center says charter schools “are more racially isolated than traditional public schools in virtually every state and large metropolitan area in the nation.”

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School choice adds to growth in economic segregation

Segregation of public schools by family income has increased significantly in the past two decades, according to a new study by three leading education researchers. And school-choice policies have likely contributed to economic segregation, they say.

The study draws on multiple data sources to measure segregation of students between school districts and segregation between schools within the same districts. Interestingly, it finds some of the largest increases were in intra-district segregation.

The study is in this month’s issue of the American Educational Research Journal. Authors are Ann Owens of the University of Southern California, Sean Reardon of Stanford and Christopher Jenks of Harvard.

Findings include:

  • Segregation by income between school districts increased by 15 percent between 1990 and 2010.
  • In the nation’s 100 largest school districts, economic segregation within districts increased by 40 percent during the same period.
  • Economic segregation of schools is about two-thirds as extensive as white-black segregation and about the same as white-Hispanic segregation.

The study concludes that rising income inequality in the U.S. is a primary cause of the growing economic segregation of schools. As the gap grows between rich and poor, affluent families are more likely to segregate themselves into enclaves where there are few poor children in the public schools.

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Survey is ammunition, not illumination

University of Illinois education professor Christopher Lubienski said he winced when he saw a recent Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice survey that purported to find suspiciously strong support among Indiana voters for private school vouchers.

Christopher Lubienski

Christopher Lubienski

Lubienski, who studies both school choice and research methodology, suspected the survey results would be reported uncritically — and sure enough, they were.

“The Friedman Foundation is an advocacy organization,” he said in a phone interview this week. “There’s nothing wrong with that, but they have a position. I think it’s not appropriate to represent them as some kind of objective research organization. They’re not; they’re pushing an agenda.

“Researchers are looking for illumination,” he said. “And the Friedman Foundation is looking for ammunition.”

The Friedman Foundation survey found that an extraordinary seven in 10 Hoosier registered voters favor vouchers, in which the government pays private and religious school tuition for qualified students. Other surveys find voucher support to be half that strong. The foundation also found strong support for charter schools and for education savings accounts, a new and convoluted approach to providing public funding for private school tuition.

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PDK/Gallup Poll: Views differ by race

People of color have a different view of their community schools than do white people. That’s an important take-away from the 2015 PDK/Gallup Poll, released Sunday.

For example, asked to rate the schools in their own community, 51 percent of poll respondents gave local schools an A or B. But only 23 percent of African-American parents and 31 percent of Hispanic students gave their local schools an A or B.

Maybe that’s to be expected: Blacks and Hispanics are more likely than whites to live in economically struggling communities with under-resourced schools. But for years, the PDK/Gallup Poll has highlighted the fact that a majority of parents think local schools deserve an A or B – the message being that most parents are satisfied with local public schools. It turns out that’s only partly true.

And African-Americans differ from whites on other topics and issues: They are:

  • More likely to think test scores are an important measure of school effectiveness.
  • Less sympathetic to the “opt-out” movement and less likely to exempt their own children from testing.
  • More supportive of having schools teach the Common Core State Standards.

The PDK/Gallup Poll tends to produce similar headlines every year: Americans rate their local schools highly, they favor charter schools and choice but are skeptical of testing and accountability schemes, etc. But this year’s poll added a web-based component that let the pollsters break down some results by race and ethnicity and political party loyalty. That gives a better picture of the public’s attitudes.

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An open letter to Condoleezza Rice

Dear Dr. Rice,

I read that you recently told a TV interviewer, “Anybody who isn’t in favor of school choice, anybody who isn’t in favor of educational reform, anybody who defends the status quo in the educational system, that’s racist to me.”

I don’t support the status quo. In fact, I don’t know anyone who does. We all want schools to get better, although many of us disagree about how to make that happen.

But I don’t favor school choice as a tactic for improving education. And I very much am not in favor of the “education reform” agenda that promotes charter schools and private-school vouchers as an alternative to public schools. I haven’t seen any evidence that approach is working.

I don’t think that makes me or my views racist. Let me try to explain.

First, the idea that school choice will help “poor black kids trapped in failing neighborhood schools,” as you put it, may sound good, but that’s not what’s happening. Instead, the growth of charter schools has created a two-tiered system that favors children with engaged and savvy parents.

As Iris C. Rotberg wrote in the Phi Delta Kappan, numerous studies show school choice has increased segregation of students by race, ethnicity and socioeconomic status. Sixty years after Brown v. Board of Education, our schools are getting more separate and less equal. School choice is making this worse. Continue reading

Indiana voucher students getting whiter, less poor

Indiana’s voucher initiative was billed as a way to help poor children, many of them black and Hispanic, escape low-performing urban public schools. But it’s shifting rapidly to a program that serves middle-class white families, according to data released this week.

It’s also getting a lot bigger, but we already knew that. The number of students getting taxpayer dollars to attend mostly religious private schools more than doubled this year, to 19,809 students, the Indiana Department of Education reported.

But the demographic shift is equally striking. White students receiving vouchers grew from 46.4 percent in 2011-12, the program’s first year, to 56.4 percent this year. The percentage of black students among recipients has declined by a third in just two years.

To what extent are white parents using state-funded vouchers to pull their children out of racially integrated public schools and send them to mostly white private schools? How often are we subsidizing moves from effective public schools to ineffective private schools? Those are among the questions that figures in the DOE report don’t answer.

We do know, thanks to State Impact Indiana, that a lot of parents are using vouchers to move their children to private schools that earned Ds or Fs on the state grading system. Continue reading