Pondiscio: Choice Is Not About Test Scores

March 6, 2017


(Guest Post by Jason Bedrick)

In case you missed it, in today’s U.S. News & World Reportthe inimitable Robert Pondiscio gently chides fellow school choice advocates for getting caught up in a debate over test scores, which are ancillary to the true value of school choice:

Wonky battles over research studies can be illuminating. They can also be irrelevant or premature. While [school choice] advocates are correct that the preponderance of evidence tends to favor school choice, this entire debate puts the cart before the horse. When we look to test-based evidence – and look no further – to decide whether choice “works,” we are making two rather extraordinary, unquestioned assumptions: that the sole purpose of schooling is to raise test scores, and that district schools have a place of privilege against which all other models must justify themselves.

That’s really not what choice is about. Choice exists to allow parents to educate their children in accordance with their own needs, desires and values. If diversity is a core value of yours, for example, you might seek out a school where your child can learn alongside peers from different backgrounds. If your child is a budding artist, actor or musician, the “evidence” that might persuade you is whether he or she will have the opportunity to study with a working sculptor or to pound the boards in a strong theater or dance program. If your child is an athlete, the number of state titles won by the lacrosse team or sports scholarships earned by graduates might be compelling evidence. If faith is central to your family, you will want a school that allows your child to grow and be guided by your religious beliefs. There can be no doubt that, if you are fortunate enough to select a school based on your child’s talents or interests or your family’s values and traditions, the question of whether school choice “works” has already been answered. It’s working perfectly for you.

Deciding whether or not to permit parents to choose based on test-based evidence is presumptuous. It says, in effect, that one’s values, aspirations and priorities for one’s child amount to nothing. Worse, our evidence-based debate presumes that a single, uniform school structure is and ought to be the norm, and that every departure from that system must justify itself in terms of a narrow set of outcomes that may not reflect parents’ – or society’s – priorities. Academic outcomes matter, of course, but so do civic outcomes, character development, respect for diversity and faith and myriad others.

This isn’t to say that the research on the effect of school choice on test scores is meaningless. But it has to be read and understood in the broader context. Test scores are important, but they’re far from what’s most important about exercising educational choice. As Pondiscio concludes:

School choice proponents who seek to prove that vouchers, tax credits and scholarships “work” by citing test-score-based research have allowed themselves to be lured into argument that can never be completely won. They have tacitly agreed to a reductive frame and a debate over what evidence is acceptable (test scores) and what it means to “win” (better test scores). This is roughly akin to arguing whether to shop at your neighborhood grocery store vs. Wal-Mart based on price alone. Price is important, but you may have reasons for choosing the Main Street Grocery that matter more to you than the 50 cents per pound you’d save on ground beef. Perhaps Main Street’s fresh local produce and personal service are more important to you.

If we limit the frame of this debate to academic outputs alone, every new study provides ammunition, but never a conclusion. The real debate we should be having is, “What kind of system do we want?” Answer that question first, then use evidence to improve the school designs, policies and programs we have agreed deserve public support.

Amen, brother!

Setting the Record Straight on Educational Choice

March 3, 2017

(Guest Post by Jason Bedrick)

In the last couple weeks, the New York Times has cranked their effort to discredit educational choice policies up to 11. The formula is simple: downplay the positive findings from all the previous gold-standard research and focus instead on more recent studies from Louisiana, Ohio, and Indiana — two of which are not random-assignment studies and one of which hasn’t even been released (not to mention the likelihood that overregulation is hampering Louisiana’s voucher program). Sadly, this distorted narrative is spreading, but some are pushing back. Yesterday, Paul DiPerna of EdChoice and Neal McCluskey of the Cato Institute each provided essential context for understanding the research on school choice.

In Education Next, DiPerna wrote:

Contrary to recent editorials in some major U.S newspapers, the empirical research on school choice programs is far more positive than not. Summaries of the effects of multiple programs generally show positive effects, as does a meta-analysis of gold-standard experimental research on school choice by Shakeel, Anderson, and Wolf (2016). Participating students usually show modest improvements in reading or math test scores, or both. Annual gains are relatively small but cumulative over time. Graduation and college attendance rates are substantially higher for choice students compared to peers. Programs are almost always associated with improved test scores in affected public schools. They also save money. Those savings can be used to increase per-pupil spending in local school districts. Studies also consistently show that programs increase parent satisfaction, racial integration and civic outcomes.

It’s true that recent studies have reported some initial negative effects on choice students’ test scores. The most sobering come from the rigorous, experimental evaluation of the Louisiana Scholarship Program (LSP). The LSP has a different, much more restrictive regulatory framework for private schools than other choice programs. The negative results in math should be monitored, but it’s important to note that the evaluation is only in its second of seven planned years.

Broad perspective and context are essential. Negative initial findings in one or two locations, based solely on one performance metric, should not halt the creation or expansion of school choice programs in other parts of the country. Generalizing those findings across states is problematic because education is sensitive to state and local cultural, political, governmental and economic conditions. The many places where we have observed significant positive results from choice programs swamp the few where we have seen negative findings. We need to consider the complete research base and not disproportionately emphasize the most recent studies.

McCluskey also turned a gimlet eye on the studies that found negative impacts on test scores:

First, the vast majority of random-assignment studies of private school voucher programs—the “gold-standard” research method that even controls for unobserved factors like parental motivation—have found choice producing equivalent or superior academic results, usually for a fraction of what is spent on public schools. Pointing at three, as we shall see, very limited studies, does not substantially change that track record.

Let’s look at the studies Carey highlighted: one on Louisiana’s voucher program, one on Ohio, and one on Indiana. Make that two studies: Carey cited Indiana findings without providing a link to, or title of, the research, and he did not identify the researchers. The Times did the same in their editorial. Why? Because the Indiana research has not been published. What Carey perhaps drew on was a piece by Mark Dynarski at the Brookings Institution. And what was that based on? Apparently, a 2015 academic conference presentation by R. Joseph Waddington and Mark Berends, who at the time were in the midst of analyzing Indiana’s program and who have not yet published their findings.

Next there is Ohio’s voucher program. The good news is that the research has been published, indeed by the choice-favoring Thomas B. Fordham Institute. And it does indicate that what the researchers were able to study revealed a negative effect on standardized tests. But Carey omitted two important aspects of the study. One, it found that choice had a modestly positive effect on public schools, spurring them to improve. Perhaps more important, because the research design was something called “regression discontinuity” it was limited in what it was able to reliably determine. Basically, that design looks at performance clustered around some eligibility cut-off—in this case, public schools that just made or missed the performance level below which students became eligible for vouchers—so the analysis could not tell us about a whole lot of kids. Wrote the researchers: “We can only identify with relative confidence the estimated effects…for those students who had been attending the highest-performing EdChoice-eligible public schools and not those who would have been attending lower-performing public schools.”

That is a big limit.

Finally, we come to the Louisiana study, which was random-assignment. Frankly, its negative findings are not new information. The report came out over a year ago, and we at Cato have written and talked about it extensively. And there are huge caveats to the findings, including that the program’s heavy regulations—e.g., participating schools must give state tests to voucher recipients and become part of a state accountability system—likely encouraged many of the better private schools to stay out. There are also competing private choice programs in the Pelican State. In addition, the rules requiring participating private schools to administer state tests are new, and there is a good chance that participating institutions were still transitioning. Indeed, as Carey noted, the study showed private school outcomes improving from the first year to the second. That could well indicate that the schools are adjusting to the change. And as in Ohio, there was evidence that the program spurred some improvements in public schools.

Both blog posts are worth reading in full, but the main point is this: the research literature is generally positive. The few negative findings are disconcerting and should cause education reformers to think critically about policy design, but the literature still generally finds that students exercising school choice tend to perform as well or better than their district school peers, they’re more likely to graduate high school and enroll in college, they’re less likely to be involved in crime, and all these positive effects come at a much lower cost per pupil to the taxpayer. Additionally, the overwhelming majority of studies find that choice programs have a modest but statistically significant positive effect of the performance of district schools.

Educational choice remains a win-win solution.


Keep School Choice in the States

March 2, 2017


If D.C. wants to push school choice, it should make the D.C. voucher universal. Let D.C. clean its own long-neglected house and leave the states in charge of their own education systems.

As I told the New York Times in a story that ran today:

Greg Forster, a fellow at EdChoice, a research and advocacy organization that promotes school choice options, said that while he welcomes more support for the idea of school choice, he wants the issue to remain a state responsibility. “We have achieved a lot of victories at the state level by building bridges,” Mr. Forster said. Having Mr. Trump as an advocate “is a bigger problem for the school choice movement than it is a blessing, in my book,” he said.

He added that there is “no need for a federal push for school choice” because the options are increasingly gaining ground, leading to 61 private school choice programs in 30 states and the District of Columbia.

See also.

Tweets as a Window Into Foundation Strategy, Part 2

February 17, 2017

Image result for twitter bird flying through window

In my last post I described a method for understanding what ed reform foundations are really pursuing by examining the content of Tweets issued by their grantees.  When some assistants and I conducted this analysis we found that ed reform foundation grantees devote significantly more energy to promoting diversity than promoting school choice. In the prior post I wondered whether this strategy of emphasizing diversity relative to choice is wise given Republican dominance of state governments, where most education policy is formulated and implemented.

The grantees of major ed reform foundations not only give a lower priority to advocating for school choice — both charters and private school choice — but they also seem to prefer top-down accountability approaches over parental empowerment.  It was too difficult for non-expert research assistants to judge whether Tweets championed accountability to regulators as opposed to accountability to parents, but they could reliably count the number of Tweets that mentioned the words accountability, quality, and equity.  When Tweets are advocating top-down accountability they tend to use these words since they typically do not envision having to answer to parents as accountability and because they often argue that quality and equity are the goals of their top-down regulatory efforts.  Of course, some Tweets that use these words are not advocating top-down accountability, but it is also the case that one does not need to specifically mention the words accountability, quality, or equity to be arguing for top-down accountability.  While obviously imprecise, I think the number of Tweets talking about accountability, quality, or equity is a reasonable proxy for support of top-down accountability approaches.

If we compare the number of Tweets using any of these three words to the number of Tweets advocating school choice, we find far greater emphasis on top-down accountability than choice.  Among grantees of the Gates Foundation, Tweets mentioned accountability, quality, or equity 6.7 times as often as they advocated school choice.  Among Broad Foundation grantees the ratio was 3.1.  Arnold Foundation grantees mentioned accountability, quality, or equity 1.9 times as often as they advocated choice.  And at the Walton Foundation the figure was 1.0, representing a relatively even emphasis on top-down accountability and choice.

Another indication of how much foundation grantees favored top-down accountability relative to parental empowerment could be found in how they reacted to Betsy DeVos’ nomination for Secretary of Education.  Keep in mind that the time-period we examined was October 1 to December 15 of 2016, so DeVos had just been nominated toward the end of that period.  In addition, she had not yet testified, so support or opposition of her nomination was a reaction to her perceived position on issues rather than her command (or lack thereof) of the details of education policy.  Much more opposition to DeVos was mobilized and expressed after her confirmation hearings, which was after the time period we examined.  Lastly, it is important to consider that DeVos is a relatively centrist Republican reformer.  Her supporters included moderate advocates of top-down accountability, while opposition to her was marked by hostility to parental empowerment or support for choice only if it was accompanied by fairly strong top-down accountability measures.

When my assistants coded Tweets as supporting or opposing DeVos they found that grantees of the Broad Foundation opposed her 2 to 1, although this was based on a small number of Tweets.  Given that Eli Broad ultimately wrote a public letter opposing DeVos, this result is not surprising but does provide some validation for the method of analyzing Tweets as a window into foundation strategy.  Gates Foundation grantees had slightly more Tweets against DeVos than favoring her.  But among the Arnold and Walton foundation grantees, support for DeVos was much stronger, with Tweets 2.9 and 5.9 times more likely to support than oppose her, respectively.

Foundations can, of course, support whatever causes they prefer.  The major education reform foundations do not have to be enamored with school choice, can devote the bulk of their energy to promoting diversity, and can take whatever positions they like with respect to top-down accountability and Betsy DeVos.  My point in reporting these results is simply that the causes being championed by the grantees of these major education reform foundations may differ significantly in some ways from what many people think ed reform foundations support.  These causes being championed may even differ significantly from what the foundation staffs or boards think they are supporting.  The evidence suggests that major ed reform foundation grantees give far higher priority to advocating for diversity than for school choice, seem to favor top-down accountability more than parental empowerment, and sometimes only offer tepid support or even opposition to moderate Republican reformers.

Tweets as a Window Into Foundation Strategy

February 16, 2017

Image result for twitter bird flying through window

I’ve been trying to get a better understanding of what strategy major education reform foundations are actually trying to pursue.  I’ve read their mission statements and strategy documents, but it’s hard to know what to make of these vague declarations.  Instead, I decided that we might get a more accurate sense of foundation strategy by examining the social media communications of their grantees.  That is, what the organizations funded by foundations actually advocate on Twitter might tell us more about what those foundations really support.

So I had three research assistants analyze all Tweets from the grantees of four major education reform foundations between October 1 and December 15 of 2016.  We identified the recent grantees of the Arnold, Broad, Gates, and Walton foundations and then found Twitter accounts associated with those grantees.  I then asked those assistants to code tweets for whether they were advocating the expansion of school choice, advocating diversity, supporting or opposing Betsy DeVos, and whether they contained certain words, such as: accountability, quality, social justice, equity, and choice.

Deciding whether tweets were advocating something required a judgment that could distort results.  Despite the fact that my assistants were not experts in education policy, they were still remarkably consistent in their judgements when they coded the same Tweets — generally correlating above .9.  Counting the number of Tweets containing certain words did not require judgments and were even less prone to error.  Despite the consistency of coding Tweets, it’s important to take the results of this analysis with large grains of salt.  Inferring what foundations are actually pursuing based on the Tweets of grantees is a messy enterprise.  Despite that messiness, the results can still be revealing.

The most striking thing we found is that the grantees of these major education reform foundations spend a lot of time Tweeting in support of diversity, especially relative to how often they Tweet in support of school choice.  Grantees of the Broad Foundation advocate for diversity 6.9 times as often as they advocate for choice.  At Gates it’s 7.7 times.  Grantees of the Arnold and Walton foundations pay more attention to choice, but they still advocate for diversity 2.3 and 1.7 times more often, respectively, than for choice.

Keep in mind that supporting choice included any type of choice — charters or private school choice.  And keep in mind that a major referendum on whether to expand charter schools was on the ballot in Massachusetts during the period examined.  Despite the perception that these major education reform foundations are focused on expanding school choice, at least with charters, their grantees appear to be devoting more energy to arguing for greater diversity.

The support expressed for “diversity” generally did not mean anything radical.  Instead, most of the Tweets in support of diversity advocated broadly popular things, like expanded tolerance, greater opportunities for disadvantaged groups, and increased representation of traditionally under-represented groups. For example one Tweet said “Happy International #Tolerance Day. Remember, team always beats individual. Let’s encourage students to embrace #diversity.”  Another said “#LGBT-specific professional development and promotion of acceptance in classrooms can reduce bullying.”  And yet another said, “all students would likely benefit from having teachers from a range of races & backgrounds.”

There’s nothing particularly shocking about foundation grantees expressing these messages.  What’s surprising is how much emphasis they give to these issues relative to issues like school choice.  It’s also surprising given the political realities of education policy-making.  Most education policy-making occurs in states.  And most state governments are dominated by Republicans.  Currently, 25 states have Republican control of the governor and both legislative chambers, compared to just 6 with Democratic trifectas.  Republicans control both legislative chambers in 32 states.  Republican dominance of state governments isn’t a result of the most recent election but has existed since 2010.

So, if foundations wish to exercise influence over education policy (at least in this decade) they had better craft messages that are particularly appealing to state Republicans.  Talking all the time in support of diversity and much less frequently about school choice is unlikely to win over state Republicans.  It’s not that Republicans are necessarily against diversity, it’s just that it’s a wrong set of priorities for addressing Republican concerns and goals.

At times it feels like major ed reform grantees forget who they need to appeal to in order to win.  It’s as if they are competing in a student government election at Oberlin rather than trying to win a legislative battle in Georgia.  At elite colleges you can score points in most debates by emphasizing diversity, but the same tactic is much less effective in Republican dominated state governments.  Part of the problem is that many ed reform grantees and the foundations that fund them are populated by relatively recent graduates of those elite colleges who haven’t adjusted to the fact that what worked back at school and works among their colleagues doesn’t necessarily appeal to the Republican legislators they need to convince.

In the next post I’ll provide a few more results.  None of this should be news to close observers of trends in education advocacy, but it might be useful to have some evidence that documents the shifting focus of ed reform efforts.

Petrilli vs. Petrilli

February 14, 2017

Image result for fight club punching himself

It’s really hard to debate policy with Mike Petrilli.  In part it is so difficult because he’s such an amiable guy that you’d rather not disagree with him.  But more importantly, it’s hard to debate Mike because his argument keeps shifting to please whatever audience he is addressing.

To one audience he’s a a champion of top-down accountability who favors everyone taking the state test, using those test results for the “default closure” of charter schools and to exclude private schools from participating in choice programs, and expecting that a lot of schools may need to be closed as a result. To another audience he’s an advocate of parental accountability who doesn’t prefer everyone taking the state test, opposes relying solely on tests when deciding which school options should be closed, and believes that school closures should be rare.

These changing views are not the result of a gradual evolution in his thinking, which everyone may do as they acquire new experiences and evidence.  Instead, this ever-shifting set of positions can change and then change back again within a few hours, a few days, or a few months.

For example, last week Mike argued against relying on test scores to make closure decisions from afar: “If Jason [Bedrick] and Jay and others are saying that those of us in the Ivory Tower shouldn’t sit in our Star Chamber and decide which schools should live and die, based solely on their test scores, I say Amen.” But the next day he tweeted in support of state policies that would automatically close schools based on test results: “I would prefer not to have automatic closures, but some states with terrible authorizers may need them.” This sentiment echoed Fordham publications from December of 2016 and June of 2015 that similarly praised “default closures.”  And just a few weeks earlier Mike was touting the use of state test results to exclude private schools from participating in voucher programs:

In Louisiana, participating private schools that serve more than forty voucher students must administer all of the state tests to them. They then receive a “scholarship cohort index” score that’s used to determine whether they can continue to accept new students. Louisiana state superintendent John White has already triggered the provision to keep several schools from accepting new voucher-bearing pupils.

In Indiana, schools must administer the Indiana Statewide Testing for Educational Progress assessment and report their graduation rates to the states. These data are used to determine each private school’s A–F rating—just like their public school counterparts. If a school is rated a “D” or “F” for two or more consecutive years, it becomes ineligible to accept new scholarship students.

Which is it? Does Mike favor a Star Chamber that decides whether schools live or die based on test scores or not?

Another example: last week Mike argued that closures should be rare: “Appropriately, it’s unusual for charter authorizers to pull the trigger—by one estimate, just three percent of charters are closed for poor performance. (Doing this infrequently is appropriate because Jason and Jay are right that we should defer to parents’ judgments most of the time, because they do have important information, and because we’re talking about their children.) ” But elsewhere Mike brags about the high numbers of closed charter schools: “During the same period, dozens of charter schools have also closed for a variety of reasons, including financial difficulties and academic underperformance. In fact, Ohio’s automatic closure law, which is based on academic results, required twenty-three charters to close during the period of study.”  And even with this high number of closures he complained last week in a tweet that “Having bad schools fester hurt the OH charter sector bigly.”  This was only a day after he wrote that charter closures were appropriately “rare.”

This dizzying change in positions is exacerbated by Mike’s habit of “triangulation.”  It’s very important that Mike position himself as the sensible moderate.  To do so he often caricatures the views of others so they sound extreme and then he positions himself just toward the center of that extreme.  He fashions himself as the “realist” while others are “purists.”  But if Mike is often locating his position relative to someone else’s, his own views will change depending on whom he’s juxtaposing himself against.  If he’s establishing that he has some overlap with but is more centrist than top-down accountability proponents, he comes off sounding more like a top-down accountability advocate.  And if he’s claiming that he has some overlap with but is more centrist that parental accountability supporters, then he comes off sounding more like a parental accountability advocate.

I do think Mike and Fordham deep down have consistent, principled views, but they cloud the picture with this triangulation.  It would also be easier to debate (and sometimes agree) with Mike and Fordham if they devoted less energy to positioning and more just to articulating their worldview and the reasons for it.

Getting Accountability Right

February 9, 2017


(Guest Post by Jason Bedrick)

In a recent blog post, I argued the Mike Petrilli “fundamentally misunderstands accountability” because he sees it as meaning top-down regulations when the reality is that “true accountability is when service providers are directly answerable to the people most affected by their performance.” I further noted that, as Thomas Sowell has written, “It is hard to imagine a more stupid or more dangerous way of making decisions than by putting those decisions in the hands of people who pay no price for being wrong.”

Mike responds by arguing semantics, attacking straw men, and taking my words out of context. He writes:

As Jason knows, I agree with him—and with Sowell, Milton Friedman, and many others—that schools must be accountable to parents via the marketplace, that school choice is a better system than a regulated monopoly, and that I don’t in fact support “top down regulations.” What I and other “choice realists” want is for schools of choice to be lightly regulated yet subject to societal expectations regarding results. That’s what we mean by “accountability.” It’s Jason and his like-minded colleagues who have sought to redefine that word to mean “regulation.” Ironically, the teachers unions play the same game, saying that schools such as charters, which are partially freed from meddlesome government regulations (like tenure rules), are not “accountable.” This strikes me as mildly Orwellian.

Actually, it’s Mike who is trying to redefine the term “regulation.” Merriam-Webster defines “regulation” as “an authoritative rule dealing with details or procedure” or “a rule or order issued by an executive authority or regulatory agency of a government and having the force of law.” When the government issues a rule saying that schools that fail to meet its criteria are ineligible to accept vouchers from parents who would like to choose that school, that is a regulation. That may be a wise or foolish regulation, but it should not be controversial to recognize that it meets the textbook definition of a “regulation.”

If anything is Orwellian, it’s Mike’s insistence that we reserve the term “regulation” only for regulations he doesn’t like.

For the record, I support certain regulations — yes, regulations! — ensuring financial accountability to the taxpayer, such as requiring that ESA parents submit receipts, regular audits of such programs, etc. Taxpayers are owed accountability for funds they are forced to fork over, which means ensuring that they are only used for their intended purposes. However, accountability for academic results should lie primarily with those who have both the greatest incentive to help and most local knowledge about the children we are funding: their parents. In any case, I don’t pretend that the regulations I support somehow aren’t “regulations” just because I support them. Mike shouldn’t either.

Mike continues:

If Jason and Jay and others are saying that those of us in the Ivory Tower shouldn’t sit in our Star Chamber and decide which schools should live and die, based solely on their test scores, I say Amen. But that’s not what we’ve ever proposed. The charter sector has invented an entity called a school authorizer. The best ones know the schools they oversee inside and out. They aren’t “distant”; they build relationships with the schools’ boards, leaders, and parents. They understand the stories behind the test scores. And when reviewing the performance of “their” schools, they look at myriad factors besides those test scores. (As Andy Smarick has argued, voucher programs could use something like authorizers, too.)

Here, Mike is attacking a straw man. Were we talking about charters? No. The article to which I was responding was titled, “Vouchers have changed. Maybe your position should change, too.” In that article, Mike wrote:

In Louisiana, participating private schools that serve more than forty voucher students must administer all of the state tests to them. They then receive a “scholarship cohort index” score that’s used to determine whether they can continue to accept new students. Louisiana state superintendent John White has already triggered the provision to keep several schools from accepting new voucher-bearing pupils.

In Indiana, schools must administer the Indiana Statewide Testing for Educational Progress assessment and report their graduation rates to the states. These data are used to determine each private school’s A–F rating—just like their public school counterparts. If a school is rated a “D” or “F” for two or more consecutive years, it becomes ineligible to accept new scholarship students. (The information about these voucher programs comes from the American Federation for Children’s school choice yearbook.)

So if you oppose vouchers because of lack of accountability, it may be time to change your position.

My response was focused entirely on private school choice (i.e., vouchers, tax-credit scholarships, and education savings accounts). Mike continues to tout policies like those in Louisiana that likely contributed to the first negative outcomes in any random-assignment study of any voucher program, but when I call him out for this, he wants to change the subject and talk about charters instead. I wonder why!

(Note also: I’ve already responded to the Smarick proposal Mike plugged, which I think is creative but unwise.)

By focusing on charters, Mike is able to attack a straw man rather than address my actual points. I do not object to charter authorizers closing schools based on local knowledge, as he described above. I object vigorously to default closures (or expulsion from voucher programs) based on a pre-ordained formula, especially one (like the A-F grading system* he promoted in his previous article) that is heavily dependent on standardized test scores.

So, Mike, which is it? Do you support or oppose default closures? Do you support or oppose the Louisiana-style voucher expulsions? If you support them, then let’s talk about that rather than some non sequiturs.

Mike titled his recent article “Accountability to parents is necessary but not sufficient,” but he doesn’t even attempt to defend this position. Is there any reason to believe that mandating the state test and tossing out low-scoring schools would produce better results, in the long run, than mandating that voucher-accepting schools administer their choice of nationally norm-referenced tests and reporting the results directly to parents? If so, he doesn’t offer any. So-called “choice purists” prefer the latter regulation (there’s that word again!) because it avoids incentivizing the narrowing of curriculum or the refusal of quality schools from participation in voucher programs, as Lindsey Burke and I described in our recent report, “Recalibrating Accountability.” If Mike wants to have a conversation about the points we’ve actually made, instead of the non sequiturs he’d rather raise, I’m happy to talk.

Mike concludes:

Perhaps Jason, Jay, and Thomas Sowell would disagree. They might argue that taking decisions out of the hands of parents can never be justified. But with education, it’s simply not true that the public “pays no price” for being wrong. We all pay a hefty price when kids don’t learn. So, in rare cases, we need to act accordingly.

Here, Mike distorts the meaning and context of what I (and Thomas Sowell) wrote. I said that bureaucrats pay no price for being wrong, not that society pays no price. When a kid graduates high school unable to read his own diploma, no teacher, superintendent, or state education agency employee loses their job, nor does any politician (or, for that matter, any think tank wonks). Better to leave such important decisions in the hands of people who do bear the consequences of their decisions: parents.

In conclusion, I think Mike should update his own flawed choice taxonomy. At heart, he’s really a Super Nanny:


(Just kidding, Mike! You know we love you.)

* UPDATE: Above I called Louisiana’s A-F grading system “heavily dependent” on standardized test scores. Actually, for grades K-6, it is entirely dependent on test scores, as the LA DOE website explains. For grades 7 and 8, 95% of the letter grade is based on those scores. For high schools, half the grade is based on the scores, and half is based on graduation rates. Mike says he likes using LA’s A-F grading system to kick out low-performing schools, but he also offers an “Amen!” to the notion that “those of us in the Ivory Tower shouldn’t sit in our Star Chamber and decide which schools should live and die, based solely on their test scores.”

So which is it, Mike?