Later this month, researchers are expected to release findings that will shed new light on Louisiana’s private school voucher program — building on earlier work that shows it may harm student achievement, and that regulations may be stopping large numbers of schools from participating.
Will the school choice movement respond by retreating into predictable free-market and anti-voucher camps?
This week, Paul Hill of the Center on Reinventing Public Education urged people to think differently.
The left persists, refusing to give up on the belief that vouchers inevitably lead to discrimination, re-segregation, and propagation of divisive ideas. This, despite strong evidence that good private schools are effective with poor and minority students and that their graduates are more likely to vote, join civil society institutions, and endorse principles of tolerance and free speech.
But the right indulges in its own fantasy—that vouchers will inevitably call forth a new supply of schools. It’s okay, some voucher advocates claim, to offer vouchers even when existing options are bad, because good ones will emerge. That reflects the triumph of belief over evidence. Even in localities where the average voucher effects have been positive, most new schools created from scratch to take vouchers drag down the average. And, existing private schools will fill their available seats but are unlikely to build new facilities or replicate.
To date, most voucher programs have provided too little money and have been too politically unreliable to generate a strong supply response.
He’s right. Private school choice programs can give students access to learning opportunities that might not be possible in the public-school system, from Catholic and other religious schools to microschools that might be too far outside-the-box to apply for a charter.
The voucher ecosystem may be missing another crucial ingredient: Strong “mediating institutions.”
[M]ediating institutions can also be the numerous entities that have emerged to fill gaps in the charter school sector such as facilities, talent, enrollment, community engagement, and advocacy. These are gaps that a) the government does not fill and b) no one individual can fill alone. Today, dozens if not hundreds of these civil society organizations support the function and growth of high-quality options for kids.
To name just a few familiar examples: New Schools for New Orleans, Building Hope, Friends of Choice in Urban Schools, Charter Board Partners, The Mind Trust, Families Empowered, Civic Builders, Building Excellent Schools, A+ Denver, Educate78, and Choose to Succeed.
These organizations demonstrate that school choice is not just about empowering individuals to make decisions. Nor is school choice just about breaking down a sclerotic government monopoly. School choice is also an important social endeavor that creates a space in which groups of individuals can collectively and freely apply their talents to address different aspects of a societal issue.
There are nascent efforts to develop stronger mediating institutions among private schools and scholarship organizations. In states like Florida, private school choice is maturing, but it still has some growing up to do.
Meanwhile… Continue Reading →