School Choice for Kids? Ravitch and NEA Say No
Widely discredited ex-reformer and teachers union try to deny families a fundamental right.
Diane Ravitch has yet again exposed herself as an unserious spokesperson for the sclerotic anti-education reform movement. This crowd is made up of people – typically special interests – bureaucrats, teachers unions, etc. – who desperately cling to the ridiculous notion that children are best served if they are forced to go to the school nearest their home, no matter how lousy it may be. And Part 2 of this bad scenario is that the same folks insist that we throw endless piles of cash at that school even though tripling funds for education in the last 40 years has had no effect on improving it.
In a recent op-ed in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Ravitch did her darndest to make the case for maintaining the top-down, one-size-fits-all, centrally planned, expensive, bureaucratically bloated, failing school system that so many families in Milwaukee seek to escape. She claims that,
Milwaukee has had voucher schools since 1990, longer than any school district in the nation. Students in the voucher schools perform no better than those in the public schools.
Milwaukee has had charter schools for about 20 years. Students in the charter schools do no better than those in the public schools.
Ravitch, of course, is famous for never letting facts get in the way of her agenda. In a rebuttal in the same newspaper, researchers Patrick Wolf and John Witte say,
…students participating in the Milwaukee Parental Choice (“voucher”) Program graduated from high school and both enrolled and persisted in four-year colleges at rates that were four to seven percentage points higher than a carefully matched set of students in Milwaukee Public Schools. Using the most conservative 4% voucher advantage from our study, that means that the 801 students in ninth grade in the voucher program in 2006 included 32 extra graduates who wouldn’t have completed high school and gone to college if they had instead been required to attend MPS.
While the charter school data isn’t quite as dramatic as the voucher figures, studies show that charters also do a better job of educating kids in Milwaukee. Very importantly, Wolf and Witte point out,
Average per-pupil taxpayer costs of students in MPS were $15,969 in fiscal year 2011 compared to just $9,718 for independent charter schools and less than $6,442 per voucher student. Economist Robert Costrell determined that the operation of the voucher program alone saved the public over $52 million in fiscal year 2011.
So even if Ravitch is right, that school choice in Milwaukee makes no difference academically, isn’t it preferable to get the same results while spending a whole lot less? Maybe one day Ravitch will take a stab at answering that question, but I’m not holding my breath.
The National Education Association also needs to be taken to the woodshed. Those oh-so-clever folks at union-central have a page on their website which they call “Five Talking Points on Vouchers.” It begins,
What have you got against private school vouchers?” your brother-in-law demands over Sunday dinner. Ah, if he only knew the facts. Next time someone puts you on the spot, use these talking points to debunk the most popular voucher claims.
The “facts” according to the NEA are:
NEA: There’s no link between vouchers and gains in student achievement.
Truth: Greg Forster at the Friedman Foundation examined all available empirical studies and found that,
Ten empirical studies have used random assignment, the gold standard of social science, to examine how vouchers affect participants. Nine studies find that vouchers improve student outcomes, six that all students benefit and three that some benefit and some are not affected. One study finds no visible impact. None of these studies finds a negative impact.
NEA: Claiming that private schools have autonomy, they say that, “Vouchers undermine accountability for public funds.”
Truth: What NEA doesn’t tell you is that in many places public schools have no accountability at all. If a public school fails, what happens? Typically the school doesn’t “go out of business” the way private schools do. Instead, reacting to heavy pressure from the teachers unions, state legislatures will keep the failing schools afloat and demand that taxpayers pony up more money because “we owe it to the children.”
NEA: Vouchers do not reduce public education costs.
Truth: This is an outrageous lie. As shown above, charters in Milwaukee do the job for 60 cents on the dollar and vouchers for about 40 cents on the dollar. Granted these numbers are specific to Milwaukee, but there is little difference on the national level.
NEA: Vouchers do not give parents real educational choice.
Truth: They give everyone involved a choice. The claim here is that private schools “discriminate.” Okay, so what? If a certain school won’t accept little Johnny because he has an asthmatic condition that the school doesn’t have the medical wherewithal to deal with, a parent will have to go find a private school that is more suitable. Yes, in a free system of school choice, schools and parents can pick and choose each other without coercion.
NEA: The public disapproves of vouchers.
Truth: Because of intense propaganda by teachers unions and other special interests, the public has been skeptical of vouchers, but that is changing. According to the Center for Education Reform, there are now 21 states that have voucher programs. And very importantly, once a state institutes school choice, it doesn’t change back to a non-choice policy. (Choice does well elsewhere. France and Canada have partial choice set-ups, while 90 percent of Chilean students utilize such a system. And Sweden has free choice for every child in the country.) Additionally, researcher Herbert Walberg recently wrote,
In big cities, as many as 80 percent of public school parents say they would send their children to parochial or independent schools if they could afford tuition. Scholarships for poor families are heavily oversubscribed, as are charter schools, which are government-funded but run by private boards.
As we head into National School Choice Week, it is important to listen to the voices of those families who are desperately trying to get a better education for their children. And for Ravitch and her union buddies – history will relegate them to the dustbins they so richly deserve. It can’t happen too soon.
Larry Sand, a former classroom teacher, is the president of the non-profit California Teachers Empowerment Network – a non-partisan, non-political group dedicated to providing teachers with reliable and balanced information about professional affiliations and positions on educational issues.
National School Choice Week will be celebrated Jan. 27-Feb.2 this year.