Brookings Institution finds that 82% of American families live within five miles of a private school

April 10, 2017

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

Arizona lawmakers passed a broad expansion of the state’s ESA program last week, meaning that we got treated to every anti-choice talking point you can imagine during the debate, some far more dubious than others. One opponent for instance asserted that the ESA program was reminiscent of a very unfortunate history decades ago when officials kidnapped Native American children from reservation lands and forced them to attend schools in Phoenix, breaking their families up.  As you might imagine, this level of overconfident paternalism bears a scar to this day. Parental choice would of course bring this history to mind if not for the fact that it is in fact the polar freaking opposite of having some idiotic government official decide where your child was going to go to school whether you like it or not.

But I digress…

Transportation lies more in the realm of worthwhile discussion- parents can only choose between schools within transport range. Private schools engage in a variety of formal and informal transportation efforts- including carpools and buses, but the lack of tightly packed attendance boundaries presents challenges as choice schools tend to draw from large areas for students. Brookings has produced a very helpful study finding that 82% of American families live within five miles of one or more private schools.

So let’s take a real world example. A few years ago I blogged on the University of Notre Dame’s Alliance for Catholic Education program having partnered with a group of South Tucson Catholic schools. South Tucson has many low-income students and a sadly large number of low-rated public schools, but it also has a number of private schools within walking distance. Transportation is not the main issue in South Tucson- the ability of families to cover the modest tuition costs remain the main obstacle.

The complexity of the ESA program eligibility requirements were another obstacle, although one that has been overcome. This is a Powerpoint slide that ACE used to explain how they went about attempting to qualify children for Arizona choice programs under the formerly Byzantine rules of AZESA:

Having said all of this, not every child will have the same proximity to private schools as the kids in South Tucson. We can hope that additional private schools will open to meet demand, and the ESA does provide options outside of attending private schools. I am also hopeful that the Nevada ESA program will be funded this year, and we can see how including transportation as an allowable account expense works out in practice.




Brookings School Choice Task Force

February 3, 2010

I’m a co-author on the Brookings School Choice Task Force report that was released yesterday in DC, following briefings on the Hill.  Andrew Coulson has already raised concerns about the report because he fears expanding the federal role in education even if it is in expanding choice.

I’m sympathetic to Andrew’s position but I should note that he wrote his post prior to the release of the report.  After reading it he might have a lot less to be concerned about.  The Task Force did not recommend a large federal program on school choice.  Instead, we emphasized improving the quality of information and providing incentives for states and localities to expand choice.  And we conceived of choice broadly, including vouchers, charters, virtual learning, magnets, inter-district, etc…

These measures are nowhere near the kind of choice that Andrew and I would ultimately like to see, but we have to understand political realities and embrace incrementalism.  I think there are a lot of sensible ideas in the report but you should read it and judge for yourself.  It can be found here.

Son of Super Chart!

January 22, 2009

The only good bug is a DEAD bug!

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

Readers will recall Super Chart! showing that teacher quality makes a huge difference in student outcomes, while certification status does not. Drawn from the same Brookings study comes Son of Super Chart, showing that you can pretty much tell who your bad teachers are after a couple of years based on student learning gains.

This isn’t rocket science: invite ineffective teachers to do something else with their professional careers other than damaging the prospects of children. Give highly effective teachers more students and more money.

Now that we’ve sorted out this whole education crisis thing, I’ll look forward to reading Jay’s take on the season premiere of Lost.