The Fordham Institute may be the closest thing to an honest academic broker in the contentious private school choice arena these days, and its latest report will no doubt enhance that reputation. “Red Tape or Red Herring?”, released today, provides strong evidence that private schools are not averse to academic or financial oversight – a finding that runs counter to a longstanding libertarian narrative.
As Fordham president Chester Finn Jr. acknowledged in the forward: “Many proponents of private school choice — both the voucher and tax credit scholarship versions — take for granted that schools won’t participate (or shouldn’t participate) if government asks too much of them, regulates their practices, requires them to reveal closely held information and — above all — demands that they be publicly accountable for student achievement.”
The report looks at the participation rate of private schools in voucher and tax credit scholarship programs in 11 states and surveys from 241 private schools that do and don’t participate, and it finds that testing requirements are not a significant deterrent. Only a quarter of the schools ranked state-required testing as a “very” or “extremely” important factor. Among the schools not participating in voucher or scholarship programs, testing was the fifth most-cited concern – behind such issues as protection of religious activities and admission processes and government paperwork.
This is not to suggest that private schools are eager to embrace more government regulation. The report did find a modest negative correlation between the degree of regulation in a state and the rate of schools participating. But the survey is a reality check on private schools and the educators who run them. Catholic schools remain a major player in the voucher-scholarship market, in part because their mission is to serve poor children, and they also demonstrate remarkable leadership on the issue of testing and academic accountability.
The report echoes similar on-the-ground work in Florida.