(Guest post by Greg Forster)
Today, the Friedman Foundation is releasing a study I did with James Woodworth: The Greenfield School Revolution and School Choice. We know from previous research that vouchers (and equivalent programs like tax credits and ESAs) consistently deliver better academic performance, but the size of the impact is not revolutionary. Meanwhile, the whole world is watching as charter school operators (Carpe Diem, Rocketship, Yes Prep, etc.) reinvent the school from the ground up.
It’s ironic that these schools are charters, not voucher schools. A properly designed (i.e. universal) choice program would do a better job than charters of supporting these highly ambitious “greenfield” school models. But existing choice programs are not properly designed, so our impression was that they’re excluding these educational entrepreneurs, instead simply transferring students from one existing set of schools (public) to another (private).
We wanted to test our theory and make sure it was true, not just an accident of publicity or media bias, that the reinvention of the school wasn’t being supported by existing choice programs. We combed through twenty years’ worth of federal data (CCD and PSS) to see if we could find any evidence of disruption in the structure of the private school sector in places that had school choice programs.
We found that while existing school choice programs may be delivering moderately better academic outcomes, they aren’t disrupting the private school sector the way they need to be. In one or two places we found visible impacts, but nothing like a reinvention of schooling. The only impact of any considerable size is the dramatic change in racial composition in the private school population of Milwaukee.
In addition to the empirical findings, the study outlines 1) why radical “greenfield” school models are essential to drive the kind of education reform we need, and 2) why universal school choice would do a better job than charter schools of sustaining it.
Special thanks to Rick Hess, from whom we borrow the term “greenfield,” and Jay Greene for giving us their comments and insights as we developed this study!