Editor’s note: This is the fifth post in our series on the future of parental choice and accountability.
The last 20 years indicate that simply creating a school choice program does not guarantee widespread improvements in student achievement. Just come to my home state of Ohio. Despite a rapidly growing number of students exercising school choice (in its variety of forms), statewide achievement on NAEP has been largely flat for a decade, and 40 percent of the state’s college-bound high-school graduates require remedial coursework as freshmen.
The next generation of accountability should focus on identifying and improving upon those areas where the education arena is not operating as a well-functioning marketplace. Here are some areas of focus to get us started.
Ensure there isn’t a monopoly
In order to utilize market forces to drive quality, it’s essential that there isn’t an all-powerful monopoly that dominates the market. The growth of school choice in many places has weakened the monopoly that traditional school districts have enjoyed for generations, but there are still too many places (especially suburbs and small towns) where the only publicly funded educational option is the assigned district school. For consumer choice to drive quality, it’s essential that public policy enable the number of school options to continue to grow and ensure that all students have a variety of choices. While private school choice options will undoubtedly be a part of this growth, the choice ecosystem must continue to expand and should include inter-district and intra-district open enrollment, virtual and hybrid schools, and charter schools whenever possible.
Level the playing field
While additional educational options are undeniably important, school choice policy must be done in a way that levels the playing field, particularly when it comes to funding. The battle for equitable funding is a given and must be fought for. Long-term, the education system should move toward a weighted student funding system where the money follows the child. The politics of passing school choice programs has given us a host of choice programs where the traditional public school district keeps a significant amount of the per-student funding for those who exercise a school choice. This lessens the market effect as it ameliorates the need for the district to change and improve as the true cost of the parent’s dissatisfaction isn’t felt by the district. If the money followed the student to the new school, the school of choice would be able to compete on more level terms and the traditional public school would have even more reason to improve its services to keep (or win back) students.
Make high-quality information widely available
An efficient market requires that consumers have high quality information to make purchasing decisions. One of the benefits of No Child Left Behind (NCLB) has been the increased amount of school performance data. Parents have never had more information available – ranging from proficiency and value-added data to overall school letter grades – in order to choose the right school for their child. That being said, the quality, content, and ease of use of the information available can still be improved. There isn’t a perfect delivery system (yet) of this information, and state departments of education historically have done a poor job of presenting user-friendly information to parents.
All is not lost though, as GreatSchools seems to be on the right path. Continue Reading →