David L Kirp’s latest New York Times op-ed pleads with education reformers to focus on teachers rather than “impersonal” reforms like charter schools and vouchers. Although nothing is more impersonal than being zoned to a school by a faceless bureaucrat, Kirp’s distaste for school choice reforms seems rooted in a double standard he holds on education research.
For example, Kirp is a big supporter of Head Start, a pre-k program for low-income children. Even though the federal government has spent billions on Head Start, the evidence that it improves academic performance is weak, at best. Kirp even acknowledges that the most recent report on Head Start, conducted by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, found no statistically significant benefits for participating students.
Yet Kirp still wants to expand Head Start to include wealthier students. He argues adding rich students will create peer effects that benefit low-income students. It is a plausible theory, but it is one he mysteriously doesn’t apply to other educational programs such as vouchers.
Kirp argues that charter performance is no different than public school performance and that Milwaukee’s voucher program hasn’t produced learning gains, at least so far as he can tell.
The nation’s largest charter school study by CREDO has twice found modest academic advantage for low-income and minority students enrolled in charters. There are also “gold-standard” studies on Milwaukee (one by Greene, Peterson, and Du and one by Rouse) which demonstrate that participating low-income voucher students also see statistically significant academic gains and even higher graduation rates.
If including higher-income kids will help save Head Start, then imagine what it would do for programs already producing measurable benefits for low-income kids.
Grade: Needs Improvement
Public school cheaters in Ohio
Incentives to behave badly exist whether you work for a public non-profit school or a private for-profit company. The most recent example of this comes from an investigation in Ohio where auditors revealed at least 20 different public schools manipulated student assessment data to keep school grades from dropping. School leaders cheated by “scrubbing” student enrollment to make it appear as if low-performing students did not attend for the entire school year.
School leaders had a dual incentive to cheat: 1) they received financial bonuses for good performance and 2) preventing the school from receiving a D or F grade would ensure students remained ineligible for vouchers. According to the Columbus Dispatch, one father has already sued the district to recover tuition money he spent for a private school education after it was revealed his daughter would have been eligible for a voucher because she was actually assigned to a D-rated school.
The FBI is now involved and, according to the Dispatch, one leader has already plead no contest to felony charges while several others have resigned or have been fired. The Dispatch has been following this closely in its ongoing series “Counting Kids Out.” The newspaper’s editorial board has also blasted the districts.
Grade: Needs Improvement