Tuesday, March 07, 2017

Column Education Secretary Betsy DeVos is getting some very bad news about her favorite thing, school vouchers

 The idea is to give children in underperforming schools the option for a better education. (March 1, 2017)

Michael Hiltzik Michael HiltzikContact Reporter

A raft of recent studies about school vouchers couldn’t have come at a worse time for our new Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos.

That's because the studies report devastatingly bad results for students in those voucher programs. And they've been flowing into public forums just as DeVos, a leading advocate of school vouchers, takes charge of federal education policy. DeVos's patron, President Trump, proposed during his campaign to shovel $20 billion to the states to support magnet and charter schools in voucher programs.

Voucher programs give parents public funds to spend on approved private schools for their kids. The idea is to give children in underperforming schools an escape route to a better education, while providing competition that hopefully will goad those poorer schools into improving themselves.

Conservatives like the idea, which dates back to a 1955 essay by Milton Friedman, because it means reducing government's role in education and subjecting schools to market discipline. Give parents a set sum to spend on any school that meets minimum standards, Friedman wrote, and "a wide variety of schools will spring up to meet the demand."

But the economist's nirvana hasn't materialized as expected. Studies of a few early voucher experiments in Milwaukee, New York and Washington, D.C., were equivocal at best, showing some modest improvement in test scores for some students and none for others.

That’s why the latest findings, which emerge from studies of statewide programs in Louisiana, Ohio and Indiana, have left education experts stunned. In a nutshell, they find huge declines of academic achievement among students in voucher programs in those three states.

“These results are without precedent in the educational literature,” says Kevin Carey, director of the education policy program at the think tank New America. “Among the past results, none were as positive as these are negative.”

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