Posts Tagged ‘competition effects of choice’

New Book Featured in WP Blog

Friday, June 3rd, 2011

Earlier this week, Jay Mathews, an education columnist for the Washington Post, wrote about our latest book, School Choice and School Improvement, in his blog, Class Struggle.  In School choice debate vs. reality, Mathews points out that education and reform in particular is often an emotional debate in which people argue their beliefs whether or not there is a research base to support them.  In the post, Mathews summarizes some of the findings presented in the book, such as the effectiveness of vouchers in D.C. and the effects of charter competition on nearby traditional public schools.  Mathews recognizes that while a person’s opinion may drive the discussion, research should also play an important role understanding what works in education.

Renewed Interest in Vouchers Nationwide

Friday, May 6th, 2011

On May 5th, an Indiana bill was signed into law creating a private school voucher program statewide.  The Indiana program is unique in that it includes both a voucher component and a tax deduction, which is different from a voucher but is seen to accomplish many of the same goals, of $1,000 for each child in private or home school.  School vouchers are payments, usually to parents, from private or public tax funds to pay for a child’s education expenses, usually in a private school.  Indiana is just the most recent example of states proposing and/or amending tuition voucher legislation.

Voucher legislation has experienced a resurgence recently.  If you follow this blog, you may have read the post in February about the proposed vouchers in an affluent Colorado district.  Voucher bills are currently being considered or have been passed over the past few months in multiple states including Pennsylvania, Florida, Tennessee, and Wisconsin.  Much of this renewed interest came on the heels of a Supreme Court decision.  Earlier this year, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld Arizona’s tuition tax credit for parents paying tuition for their children to attend private school.  In this case, the Supreme Court ruled that a government tax credit, that may benefit religious schools, is different than government spending to support religious schools.

Voucher bills differ greatly by state.  Most are limited to low-income families or students with disabilities.  Some of the more well-known existing programs have received renewed funding or are undergoing various changes.   The D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program will continue to be funded by the federal government as part of the budget compromise passed in April.  The Wisconsin legislature is considering a bill to expand the Milwaukee voucher program statewide.  More information on research into the impacts of school choice in Milwaukee conducted by the Choice Center is available from the project page, Impact of Choice and Competition in Milwaukee.

With all the current interest, what is known about the impacts of vouchers?   The Choice Center has three projects that looked at the impacts of vouchers (see additional links below).  Overall, the studies found that, like in most other types of school choice, context matters.  Check out the research project links below to learn more!

Advanced Analyses of Randomized School Voucher Experiments

Competitive Effects of Vouchers (Florida)

Principals and Charter Competition

Wednesday, April 6th, 2011

Many advocates for school choice argue that the competition created by giving parents multiple options of schools for their children will improve education in traditional public schools.  Does the research support this claim?  The latest research brief, How Do Principals Respond to Charter School Competition?, released by the Choice Center examines the factors that contribute to principals’ (including traditional public school, private school, and magnet school leaders) perceptions of competition from charter schools  and the effect this perception has on promoting changes in leadership behavior. 

Areas studied include proximity of charters and the relation to perception of competition, principals’ allocation of time and financial resources in response to perceived and actual competition, and their ability to recruit teachers and students.  The brief also includes a clear and concise description of the key study variables mentioned above as well as policy and research implications.  For more on the findings, check out the full brief!

This brief is based on a paper by Marisa Cannata which is included in our book, School Choice and School Improvement, released in March by Harvard Education Press.  For more information about the book, check out the table of contents and selected appendices or the Harvard Education Press webpage for the book!

Vouchers Proposed in Affluent CO District

Wednesday, February 16th, 2011

Vouchers are a way of expanding school choice, usually for low-income students and/or students in low performing schools.  However, a new voucher system is under consideration by the Douglas County School Board in Colorado, which seems like an unlikely place for a voucher plan.  Douglas County is an affluent suburb of Denver, with only 8% of students qualifying for free or reduced lunch, as well as high test scores and graduation rates.

The idea came from a task force convened to recommend improvements to the school board, one of which was vouchers.  The Los Angeles Times recently featured an article highlighting the issue, “Colorado school district has wealth, success – and an eye on vouchers”.  As the Douglas County School Board considers a new program that could potentially expand the population of eligible students and change the way voucher programs are designed, it is important to consider what the research says about previous voucher programs.

Check out some of the voucher research by the Choice Center:

The Future of New Orleans Schools

Thursday, October 21st, 2010

A school district with one of the most broad-based school choice plans in the country may be in for some big changes, and the possibility has many in New Orleans stirred up.

 Louisiana State Superintendent of Education Paul Pastorek has issued a proposal to start allowing the transfer of schools out of the Recovery School District, a state-operated jurisdiction that has attracted national attention for turning around failing schools after Hurricane Katrina, frequently using charter schools as a fulcrum for change. Transfers could begin in the 2012-13 school year.  

The debate for many centers on a question of local control vs. state takeover, according to a recent story and follow-up  in the New Orleans Times-Picayune, with many assuming that schools leaving the Recovery district would move to the Orleans Parish School Board, which the Times-Picayune notes was “stripped of all but 16 of the city’s best schools in the post-Katrina reorganization” because the schools were failing. The newspaper said charter school operators and parents also are expressing wariness about leaving the Recovery incubator, with its successful track record and unusual levels of autonomy. With the Recovery district, charters now outnumber traditional public schools in New Orleans 2 to 1.

But a move to the Orleans Parish board would not be guaranteed. Pastorek’s proposal includes a provision for “the City of New Orleans to affirm that it wishes to continue with the governance structure represented by the Orleans Parish School Board, substitute it with a different governing body or provide an additional authorizing entity, or otherwise establish a governing structure that is suitable to manage the kinds of schools that have been developed in the Recovery School District.” Further, transfer would not be automatic. Only schools that met certain academic criteria would be eligible, and those schools would have the freedom to choose whether to stay in the Recovery district or move. The plan includes transfer procedures for schools run by the Recovery district as well as independent charter schools, which would sign MOUs with the new governing entity. Schools not academically eligible for transfer would be required to stay in the recovery district “until eligible for transfer.”  The Recovery district oversees 23 traditional schools and 46 charters in New Orleans, according to its Web site.

Pastorek’s proposal would require the state board of education to ensure that schools choosing to leave the Recovery district, known as RSD, “are afforded conditions and expectations that provide support and oversight similar to their experiences in the RSD, which led to their improved performance.” The new arrangement must protect the schools’ autonomy, set clear academic goals, provide support, and guarantee funding levels. The Recovery district gives its schools unusual freedoms, including control over hiring and firing and length of the school day and year, with the provision that failure to improve will lead to closure, restructuring or conversion to charters.

The Orleans Parish district restructured its school board and operations after Katrina and now oversees both charter and traditional public schools. Recently, the local district began publicizing its readiness to take on additional schools from Recovery. One flier entitled “We are Ready!” highlights academic achievements of schools still under the board’s control and ticks off fiscal improvements since Katrina.

The Recovery district was created as a temporary solution for resuscitating failing schools, with the authority to operate schools put under its jurisdiction for at least five years. The state law creating the special district required the state and Recovery superintendents to come up with a recommendation for the future of schools under the Recovery district’s control by the end of the five-year period, which occurs this fall.   

The Cowen Institute at Tulane, a think tank dedicated to education reform that was created after Katrina, issued a paper criticizing Pastorek’s proposal for providing too little detail on some important points. For example, the institute says the proposal should include a detailed, proactive plan for immediately overhauling a group of schools that have failed to improve significantly under the Recovery district’s control, including five high schools that the district has said it eventually plans to convert to charter schools. The Cowen paper also puts too many constraints on the Orleans Parish board as conditions for receiving transfer schools.

 The state board of education is scheduled to vote on the proposal in December.


Read these papers from the NCSC archives about charter school governance and operations.

Charter School Governance

When urban school districts innovate: The politics of turning around low performing school organizations through charter schools

Charter School Outcomes in California

What Happens When Regular Public Schools Convert to Charter Schools?

School Choice Options, Instructional Conditions, and Student Achievement Gains

Asking the Right Questions about School Choice

Thursday, September 30th, 2010

This is an interesting time in the world of school choice. On the one hand, there’s a growing body of research examining the effectiveness of choice, most often comparing achievement in charter schools or voucher plans to traditional public schools. But the lack of consensus among some prominent studies has left many in the public confused. Add to that recent expressions of disillusionment by early choice advocates such as Diane Ravitch and debates about  the success of school choice become even more complicated.

One long-time choice advocate is taking a stab at explaining the sources of disillusionment and suggesting different ways to frame the debate. In a new essay and blog post, both entitled “Does School Choice ‘Work’?”, Rick Hess, writes that, for starters, whether choice “works” is the wrong question. Framing the question that way, he says, creates expectations that charter schools or voucher programs have the power to quickly raise test scores and cure problems across the wide range of American schools.  Instead, Hess, who is director of educational-policy studies at the American Enterprise Institute, advocates focusing on larger organizational issues, such as whether the creation of school choice has brought market forces to education. Has it, for example, introduced innovations and competition that have forced public schools to change and diminished the power of their bureaucracies?   “The key,” he writes on the Education Week blog,“is to stop fixating on ‘choice’ and start talking about ‘deregulation’.” The post is based on a longer essay on the National Affairs site that explains his opinions more fully.

Hess also tosses a few barbs at some of his fellow choice advocates, arguing that part of any current disappointment can be traced back to overpromises by early choice advocates, citing particularly John Chubb and Terry Moe who use of the word “panacea” in their influential book Politics, Markets and America’s Schools. “The search for that panacea, and the insistence that it must be just around the corner, have been destructive distractions,” Hess writes, because they have led to narrow judgments of success based on test scores and ignored bigger questions about how market forces play out in a domain shaped by large public bureaucracies. “Since reformers have suggested that the mere presence of choice will bring about dramatic improvement in schools, the expectation has been that the simple fact of having an alternative — even inadequately funded vouchers, or charter schools hog-tied by regulation — should yield demonstrable gains in academic achievement,” he writes. In this environment, he challenges reformers and researchers to shift the focus to what market forces should look like in American K-12 education, the extent to which these forces exist at this point, and how their success should be assessed. “The questions to focus on are when, how, and why deregulation and monopoly-busting improve the quality and cost effectiveness of goods and services,” he writes, “and whether they can do the same for K-12 schooling.”


One hallmark of the National Center on School Choice’s research has been a mission to investigate the effects of choice within broader contexts. Some examples:

The NCSC is funded by a 5 year, $13.3 million grant from the U.S. Department of Education's Institute of Education Sciences. Its lead institution is Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee. The center is housed on the campus of Peabody College, one of the nation's top graduate schools of education.