The question of how to hold private schools academically accountable for publicly supported students remains contentious and, frankly, unclear. But to oppose tests out of fear the opposition will twist the results is simply untenable.
In one of the latest venues where this debate played out, at the American Federation For Children policy summit this week on the banks of the Potomac River, part of the audience broke into applause when Bob Smith, the former president of Messmer Catholic Schools in Milwaukee, pushed back on testing. Smith and Messmer schools are both highly regarded, and he was not coy about his rationale.
“We have some enemies who have sworn they are going to destroy this program, beginning with two presidents of the United States, and a number of secretaries of education,” Smith said. “Until those people stand up, and with the same fervor, deny that they will use that data against private schools, I will not trust them.”
At least two of the panels during the two-day event revealed the ongoing split over how, or even whether, to test students on vouchers and tax credit scholarships.
Not surprisingly, Robert Enlow, president of the Friedman Foundation For Educational Choice, made an eloquent and principled case for why the marketplace itself is a powerful force for assuring quality. Parents whose students are on scholarships, just like parents whose students are on private tuition, can and do walk away from schools that aren’t serving their needs – in some case putting schools out of business in the process.
Adam Emerson, director of parental choice for the Fordham Institute, made the principled case for why public is different. Public schools are under enormous pressure to produce results on state tests, with sometimes severe consequences for failure. To expect private schools serving publicly supported students to be immune from that system is unrealistic. It also denies elected policymakers who are paying the bill a test that they view as an important report card.
One slice of the divide that was hard to ignore was the contributions of the only current school administrator to serve on either panel. Continue Reading →