Ed Sector’s K-12 Incoherence Week

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

I’ve been out and about this week, but our pals over at Education Sector have kept me entertained. On Carey’s too-cool for-school dissing of vouchers, I can’t help but wonder: what would stop an advocate of home-schooling from dismissing Kevin’s beloved charter schools on a broadly similar basis? After all, home-schooling is legal in all 50 states, charters in only 40. Many of those 40 laws, however, are dogs that will never produce more than a rounding error number of schools. They’re not bad, they’re just drawn that way:

Precise numbers are not available, but twice as many or more students may be home-schooling than attending charter schools, and the rate of growth has been faster. High quality outcome data is hard to come by, but anecdotally universities have come to view home-school students very positively. I haven’t seen the same said for charter schools yet, nor have we seen (yet) a charter school student crush the evil Sooners like the bugs they are after winning the Heisman Trophy.

Im way too cool for you Carey, google my girlfriend

I'm too cool for you Carey, google my girlfriend...

Does it follow then that home-school supporters should be completely dismissive of charter schools? No of course not. The truth is that we don’t know what is going to take hold in K-12 reform, only that it is going to change.

Meanwhile, Andy Rotherham has delivered a brilliant column on the limitations of transparency that all but screams out at the end for a decentralized, self-regulating mechanism to hold schools accountable for results.

Ummm….you know….like parental choice.

3 Responses to Ed Sector’s K-12 Incoherence Week

  1. allen says:

    Home-schoolers can do whatever they want; it’s a largely self-limiting phenomenon.

    Besides, they still pay into the public system and get nothing out of it. Since they exist outside the current system they have little to no impact on the current system.

    In fact, to the extent that they can, home-schoolers ought to support vouchers and charters. The more, and closer to home, the threats to the district system the less energy and attention the defenders of the district system have to devote to lesser threats like home-schoolers. Vouchers and charters are a much more distinct threat to the district system since they drink from the same cup but worse, as politically-derived phenomenon they’re much more likely to be compared to the district system then are home-schoolers.

    The one big – huge – thing that decentralized, self-regulating mechanism needs is a means of determining who’s on first and what’s on second.

    If you think that, say, the Florida Gators are the best college football team that’s just your opinion but if the Gators end the season at the top of the standings then the facts bear out your opinion. I’m willing to bet that parents would really like to have some roughly similar scoring system that’ll tell them which reasonably nearby school had the best academic scores. At some point in the future supply will start to reach out to the demand for objective measures of performance and charters will begin to embrace those measurement instruments but it would be really nice if pundits started blabbing about how terrific it would be for parents, and anyone else who’s interested, to know with certainty which school is number one and which teacher won the equivalent of the Heismann trophy.

  2. matthewladner says:

    I agree with your last point.

    On your first paragraph, schools are funded by the state on a per-capita basis, so 2 million and counting home schoolers are costing them more than charters and tax credit combined.

  3. allen says:

    From the point of view of an individual school district, you’re right. From their point of view the per-student funding arrives via the budget fairy and the district needn’t concern itself with the ultimate source. That’s someone else’s worry.

    Of course if one district successfully engages in arm-twisting to force home-schoolers into the system that’ll encourage other districts to do the same. Two reasons why I think that hasn’t happened:

    1) home-schoolers have shown very little reluctance to go to the courts. Rather then being a budget booster then home-schoolers become a budget drain since court costs could easily wipe out per student funding increases.

    Further, home-schoolers have also shown no reluctance to use every other legal means at their disposal to make life unpleasant for the determined to drag their kids into the system. Legislators suddenly find themselves bombarded with angry correspondance, the local media is kept up to date with no expenditure of effort on their part and school board meetings become soap operas.

    2) the districts may not have to concern themselves with the ultimate source of operating funds but the state board of education sure does and if they don’t think they can get a tax increase through the legislature then home-schoolers will reduce per-student funding.

    Failing to get a tax increase through would be politically damaging because it would indicate a reduction in influence and, oh by the way, the schools did run on the reduced per-student funding. Must mean they *can* run on less funding. Oops.

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