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Saturday, August 10, 2013

The problem with "school choice" schemes

From a larger piece about Jeb Bush in the Washington Post, by Valerie Strauss

Two big studies on charter schools — done by a Stanford-affiliated institute that is actually funded by pro-charter foundations but that is seen by charter supporters as having validity — concluded that most charters don’t do any better than traditional public schools and plenty do worse. Furthermore, newspaper stories have shown that many if not most of the high-flying charters get results in part by forcing out the most troubled and under-performing students, which they aren’t really allowed to do but find a way to do it anyway. Suspensions at some charter schools are higher than 50 percent.
Problems with voucher programs are legion, including public money being used at creationist religious schools in Louisiana that teach students that dinosaurs co-existed with humans because, after all, the world was created no more than 10,000 years ago. In Florida, the Bush-advocated voucher program for low-income students, the Florida Tax Credit Scholarship, has a maximum award of $4,335 a year, according to the program’s website. The Gulliver School's, where Jeb sent his kids, website says that it cost $12,760 for pre-K through third grade, and varying rates up to $28,250 for grades 6-12. What kind of choice does this program give to low-income students?  According to the Orlando Sentinel, nearly 83 percent of the students in the program attend religious schools.
Many reformers say that traditional urban public schools had failed too many students for too long and that something had to be done. They are right. The question always was what was the right thing to do to improve these schools. All of the adults in the room should have honestly faced the real reasons for the failure — the effects of children living in poverty, underfunded schools, outdated and badly drawn curriculum, huge class sizes, disgusting school facilities, and, yes, teachers and principals who no longer belonged in the classroom. Instead, reformers came up with tests, tests and more tests, and when that didn’t work, they unfairly blamed all the problems on teachers and instituted unfair high-stakes assessment systems and so-called “choice” schemes that have made things worse than they were before

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