Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Vouchers or Accountability

A blurb in Ed Week today mentioned the results from the first year of a five-year study on vouchers in Milwaukee. Apparently the Governor and legislature cut a deal: more vouchers were authorized in exchange for making the private schools in which voucher recipients enroll administer the same state tests as public schools. As a result, students who remain in the Milwaukee public school system and students who receive vouchers and enroll in private schools are both taking the same exams (which makes comparing results awfully easy).

After the first year, the researchers could find no difference in performance between students who enrolled in private schools and students who remained in the public school system. Some of the people leading the investigation are clearly proponents of vouchers, but if these results hold up for the next four years they're going to have to scramble in order to spin them in their favor. And there's a good chance that they have a legitimate argument; private schools aren't accountable for their results on the state tests and, therefore, probably spend a great deal less time preparing students to take them. Here's where it gets interesting: generally speaking, people in favor of vouchers are also in favor of accountability (and, therefore, standardized tests) but, in this case, the only argument to support the effectiveness of vouchers may be that the standardized tests did not accurately represent what happened in the schools. In other words, the only logical argument that I can foresee is either that vouchers have shortcomings or standardized tests have shortcomings -- either way somebody is going to be put in an uncomfortable position when they present the findings. I love twists of fate.

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