Voucher program standards set effort up for success
Promised accountability standards for non-public schools participating in Louisiana’s scholarship voucher program materialized and were approved by the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education yesterday. A mixed bag, nevertheless they have more positives than negatives.
Participating schools will have students take the same academic tests as do students in the public schools, where reporting will occur for those with at least 40 program students or with one grade with at least 10 students. If after its first year of participation the school scores below 50 on a 150 point scale computed similarly as School Performance Scores for public schools (that being classified as “academically unacceptable) using only data from program students, it will be unable to accept additional program students and those there already may transfer out with priority. Do that three more years in a row, and the school gets yanked from the program.
But besides schools with few slots will have to meet these standards, many at least initially also won’t have to because testing only occurs from grade 3 on up. This means those that concentrate almost all of their slots in kindergarten through second grade will not have these standards apply – at this time about three-quarters of all slots available, although many schools appear willing to roll eligibility forward in grades as the years pass so soon most in the program will become subject to these standards.
Good about this framework is that it provides the only genuine element for accountability – information to families where available. Regrettably, many families will not take advantage of this chance to rescue students from subpar public schools because the parents won’t really care. But for those that do take advantage because they do care, they will behave in rational fashion. They will shop around and compare the public school’s performance with that of program students at the eligible schools. They will find the best deal and if it’s better than the public school’s, they’ll head in that direction. They will shy away from, if not collectively abandon, program schools that perform below that score of 50 level.
Overwrought critics with half-baked analyses of the regulations (and even some usually more sensible analysts) seem incapable of understanding this, mooting the complaint that participating schools can rank below public schools sending transfers their way. Why would a concerned parent send their children to a school scoring demonstrably lower than the one they’re in? That makes sense only if, like teachers’ unions officials are wont to do, they assume all parents are incapable of rational decision-making – which is by their own words to admit to the world that these critics do not live in the real world.
At the same time, reporting could go further. Every school participating, on the standardized tests, could report the average score in a grade level and the number taking it, even if the minimum threshold for computing a school score was not met. Some information is better than none for those schools with few program enrollees.
And the utility of basing participation on a school score might have a chilling effect of program participation. For example, some students truly disserved by the public schools, say those physically in the third grade but academically don’t even perform past kindergarten, could go to a participating school and have so much catching up to do that they can’t get the average for their new school above the magic 50 level and sanctions kick in. This fear of this kind of situation may discourage schools from going through all the effort to get into the program.
Better would be some relative measure, such as (where possible) calculating improvement year-to-year for each program student and then comparing that to the same cohort at the school from where that student came, and aggregating all. Any greater improvement across all than seen by the averages aggregated at the previous schools should indicate more learning occurred than would have otherwise, justifying the school’s presence in the program.
Posted by Jeff Sadow at 10:45