Tuesday, September 24, 2002

The Risk of Vouchers

You may recall that I said after the Supreme Court decision in favor of vouchers that private schools will have to be eternally vigilant to avoid being regulated by the state. In today's Washington Post, Jay Mathews writes about private schools' resistance to public data collection. Mathews' article makes it clear that participating in state testing programs will most likely be a requirement for voucher schools.

I pointed out to Mathews (which didn't make it into the article) that many private schools willingly share data with potential customers in private.

Many prominent school reformers assume that private schools will participate in state testing regimes as a condition of accepting a voucher:

>"I think it's very hard to argue that private schools receiving public funds should not be subject to the same information requirements as traditional public schools," said Doug Harris, assistant professor of education and economics at Florida State University and a research associate at the Economic Policy Institute in Washington.

Some experts say private schools should provide more information, whether they accept public funds or not. "I think their results should be as transparent as those of the public and charter schools, and they should be ashamed of themselves for trying to trade on status and reputation and rumor and exclusiveness, rather than hard evidence of educational effectiveness," said Chester E. Finn Jr., president of the Thomas B. Fordham Foundation in Washington and an education official in the Reagan administration.

The problem with Checker's statement is that it assumes that status and reputation grow out of thin air or that reputation can be maintained without substance. Schools that fail to deliver education value to parents and students would not be able to trade on their reputation for very long.

I do get a chance to disagree in Mathews' article:

And some activists who otherwise agree on needed educational changes are not in accord on the private school data issue.

Jeanne Allen, for instance, is president of the Center for Education Reform in Washington and, like Finn, strongly backs vouchers for ill-served public school students to attend private schools. But she is also a private school parent and thinks demanding more data from such institutions is wrong. "Private schools should not be expected to deliver the same kind of assessments . . . as they are private and account for their success or failure directly to their patrons," Allen said.

Lisa Snell, director of the education program at the Reason Foundation in Los Angeles, said private schools are likely to provide more information once they find themselves in competition with high-quality public and charter schools. "But the parents have to act as the enforcers," she said. "In a school-choice scenario, it becomes the parent's responsibility."

Right now the customer service at most private schools is so far superior to service at most public schools (even good ones) that private schools continue to win without the competitive need to disclose data.

Daryl Cobranchi gets that private schools are already accountable to their paying customers and says "THAT'S WHY THEY'RE CALLED "PRIVATE" SCHOOLS. Here's a great example of the arrogance of some reporters: private secondary schools are being pressured to release "accountability" type data and they're pushing back."

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