Study: Learning loss persists for voucher students

Indiana students who used vouchers to transfer to private schools fell behind their public-school peers academically, according to a study by researchers at the universities of Kentucky and Notre Dame.

And the loss of learning persisted for several years. That’s significant, because a preliminary version of the study, made public a year ago, suggested voucher students might catch up if they stayed in private schools for three or four years.

“We don’t see that rebound effect” in the published results, co-author and University of Kentucky professor Joseph Waddington told me. “The test scores remained where they were.”

The study, by Waddington and Notre Dame’s Mark Berends, was published last week in the Journal of Policy Analysis and Management. It found voucher students saw their scores on the state’s ISTEP-plus mathematics tests fall 0.15 standard deviation behind their peers the year they moved to a private school. They stayed that far behind for their second, third and fourth years in private schools.

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Voucher program a subsidy for religion

The Indiana Department of Education has released its 2017-18 school voucher report, providing more evidence that the state voucher program has evolved into something very different from its original design. It is now a massive government entitlement for religious schools and their students.

Indiana has awarded $154 million this year in private-school tuition vouchers to 35,458 students attending 318 schools. All those numbers are records, and nearly all the voucher schools are religious schools. The program keeps growing, although the growth has slowed.

Voucher advocates claim the program doesn’t cost the state because subsidizing tuition is cheaper than paying for students to attend public school. But many of the students have never attended public school; and there’s no clear evidence that, without vouchers, they would have.

According to the state report, 56.5 percent of students receiving vouchers this year have no record of having attended a public school in Indiana. That percentage grows every year.

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Educators give thumbs-down to school choice

Teachers, principals and superintendents don’t much care for charter schools and vouchers. Not even the ones who voted for Donald Trump for president.

That’s a key take-away from a survey conducted by Education Week and reported by the publication last week. The survey was administered to more than 1,100 educators in September and October.

It found that 74 percent fully or somewhat oppose the creation of charter schools. And 79 percent fully or somewhat oppose publicly funded vouchers to pay private school tuition.

Among educators who voted for Trump, 64 percent oppose charter schools and 70 percent oppose vouchers — even though Trump and his secretary of education, Betsy DeVos, have made expanding “school choice” a centerpiece of their education rhetoric.

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Online school leaves students behind

I thought I’d heard it all when it came to questionable practices in the name of school choice. But then I read about Indiana Virtual School. After a seven-month investigation, Chalkbeat Indiana revealed how the online charter school has raked in public money while apparently doing little to educate students.

“One of Indiana’s largest high schools ended this past school year with almost 5,000 students, but no desks and no classrooms,” Chalbeat’s Shaina Cavazos writes. “The school also had very few graduates — 61 out of more than 900 seniors graduated last year. What Indiana Virtual School did have: Tens of millions in state dollars due to come its way over the next two years, and a founder whose for-profit company charged millions of dollars in management fees and rent to the school.”

Some highlights:

  • The school had only 21 teachers for 4,682 students at the end of last school year, a ratio of 222 students per teachers.
  • Just 10 percent of its spending went to instruction while 89 percent went to “support services,” according to data provided to the state. It spent just 7 percent on teacher and staff salaries.
  • It paid about $6 million for management services and office space to AlphaCom Inc., a for-profit company headed until last year by Thomas Stoughton, the school’s founder and leader.

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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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