Home > Uncategorized > Evidence Shows Choice, Vouchers Don’t Help… but Evidence Doesn’t Matter When You Believe in Markets

Evidence Shows Choice, Vouchers Don’t Help… but Evidence Doesn’t Matter When You Believe in Markets

Dianne Ravitch’s posts yesterday included links to two articles that provide evidence that neither choice nor vouchers provide any improvement to public education nor any greater opportunity to students raised in poverty. While anyone who values evidence based decision making would see these findings as cautionary, it is unlikely that either this administration or the neoliberal “reform” movement will change their thinking on the value of markets as a means of improving education.

The article on the limitations appeared in US News and World Report. Written by Henry M. Levin, the William Heard Kilpatrick Professor of Economics and Education at Columbia University’s Teachers College, the article notes that Chile and Sweden have both instituted choice and voucher programs and witnessed a decline in PISA scores, which are used as a measure of the effectiveness of the education system in a nation. Levin does acknowledge that choice and vouchers DO achieve one outcome:

Where school choice has shown powerful effects around the world is the systematic separation of students by ethnicity, social class and religion. 

Sweden’s vouchers have increased segregation by social class and immigrant status. Chile’s voucher system has produced one of the most segregated system of schools in the world by family income. In the Netherlands, studies of the school choice system have pointed to school separation of students by ethnicity, immigrant status and family income. A Brookings Institution study found that U.S. charter schools are more segregated racially and socio-economically than public schools in surrounding areas. The Program for International Student Assessment, an important triennial study of international student performance, finds school segregation by social class is associated with school choice.

Although even public schools have segregation challenges typically caused by residential location, school choice tends to streamline the racial, social class and ethnic isolation of students, as well as separate them by political ideology and religion. 

For a country called the UNITED States of America, this outcome is clearly negative.

Indiana based blogger Steve Hinnefeld reports on the findings of a report published last summer in the Peabody Journal of Education. The study’s co-authors, Julie Mead, a professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and Jessica Ulm, a doctoral student at IU, examined 25 programs in 15 states and Washington, D.C., that provide public funding for private K-12 schools, including traditional tuition voucher programs and voucher-like programs called education savings accounts. Their findings indicate that the laws that provided vouchers often enabled public funds to be directed to schools that “…discriminate on the basis of religion, disability status, sexual orientation and possibly other factors”. But these findings are unlikely to sway voucher advocates:

Voucher supporters argue that religious schools need to be able to set their own admissions criteria and that rejecting LGBT students comes from a deeply held religious belief. But (Suzanne) Eckes (professor in the IU School of Education) points out that the same argument was once made to keep African-American students out of white schools in the South. The first voucher schools, the researchers say, were publicly funded “choice academies” established to get around the Supreme Court’s Brown v. Board of Education desegregation decision.

“Discrimination is discrimination,” Eckes said. “If you’re going to take public money, you simply shouldn’t be able to discriminate.”

As with the findings on choice, for a country called the UNITED States of America, this outcome is clearly negative.

But as with any evidence that is contrary to the “reform” narrative that calls for the replacement of the “government school monopoly (sic)” with a free market and the replacement of “failing” public schools with privatized for-profit schools or tickets to religiously affiliated schools, this evidence will be promptly ignored and disputed. in the meantime,  our schools will continue to be segregated by wealth and increasingly segregated by race… and the notion of being the UNITED States of America will be increasingly harder to achieve.

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