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Thursday, August 15, 2013

Florida private school expert says they do no better than public schools. Why do we have vouchers again? (rough draft)

Florida Private School Expert says they do no better than public schools

I find it maddening that the privatization movement seizes the littlest thread of evidence that says what they are doing is working and runs with it. The latest is: Evaluation of the Florida Tax Credit Scholarship Program Participation, Compliance and Test Scores in 2011-12, by David N. Figlio, University of Florida, Northwestern University and National Bureau of Economic Research.

You know with a name like that it has to be good.

The right ignored most of the report and focused on this one part as if it proved the draining of resources from public schools was a noble goal: Figlio reports that for six consecutive years the students entering the scholarship program “tend to be the lowest performing students in their prior (public) school” and this is a “trend that is growing stronger over time.” This is not to say the public schools as an institution are failing low-income students, but more likely that the particular public school didn’t meet the unique learning needs of the child who chose the scholarship. Parents are seeing their child struggle and they are using scholarships to pursue new options.

I read the entire report to find a source for above. If Private Schools are taking the poorest of the poor and making progress then that’s laudable, unfortunately I couldn’t find the source so I went to the source, David Figilo himself.

I wrote professor Figalo and asked him and this is what he wrote back: “Thanks for your note. That bullet point is a point of fact from the data -- shown in every year's report. On average, the students who leave the public schools to go to the private schools on the FTC program are struggling in their public schools. Remember that this is an average -- there are plenty of students who were high-fliers in their public schools going into the program, but there are even more who are doing very poorly in the public schools.”

Not quite the same as the set in stone caveat. What I found really interesting is what he wrote next.

“On average, the private schools perform at the same level as the public schools, based on all available data. But some private schools are much better than the typical public school and some private schools are much worse than the typical public school.”

Not only is this something you would never hear from the voucher crowd but I thought the reason we had vouchers was so students could get a better education experience than what they could get from their public schools, not so they could receive, on average the same education. Another problem is the quality of private schools varies tremendously. So I asked him: Just one more quick question, for private schools which ones are doing better than public schools, the ones like Gulliver prep where Jeb Bush sent his children that charge 28k in tuition or the ones… that charge, $4,335 in tuition, the cost of a voucher? I just feel like when people think private schools they think Bolles, Episcopal and Bishop Kenny the really affluent private schools in my home town, and not the private school that works out of the abandoned strip mall on the outskirts of town that depends on vouchers to survive.

Some of you might be thinking the quality of public schools vary greatly as well something I disagree with. There is without a doubt some variability in level of instruction but what really varies are the results on standardized tests, which have more to do with socioeconomic status than anything else.

I also think private schools have the same benefits as charter schools do. They benefit from selection bias, lower numbers of ESE and ESOL kids, they can council out poor performers and discipline problems, they can put requirements on parents and biggest of all they can pick who they take.

I submit that private schools that take vouchers are unmitigated disasters if with these advantages they produce even the same results that public schools do.

Once again the school choice, make that the privatization crowd seizes on any sliver of information that seems to justify their actions and once again it unravels with analysis.

To read the report, click the link: 

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