Hannah and Alyssa will tell you that the freedom to choose a school that works for them was essential to their academic success. They are just two of the 32,000 students across the nation enrolled in cyber schools. But you don’t have to take their word for it. Now, there is new research backing the academic benefits of school choice, specifically voucher programs.
A new report from the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice found that children and families who utilize school vouchers achieve better educational outcomes. According to "A Win-Win Solution: The Empirical Evidence on School Choice," 11 out of 12 "gold standard" studies showed that students excel with school choice vouchers, and none suffer when they chose educational options outside of the public school realm.
The report also found that 22 out of 23 studies on how school choice impacts public education showed that competition actually improved public school performance. No research concluded that school choice harms public schools.
The Friedman Foundation also reviewed empirical research related to the impact school choice has on taxpayers, diversity and civic values. Research consistently supports school choice in those areas.
Despite decades of carping by skeptics, vouchers and school choice in any form are a win-win for children—whether they attend private school or remain in a public school affected by school choice, said Robert Enlow, president and CEO of the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice. Competition works in all segments of our society, and it certainly helps children when they’re permitted to attend a school that fits their needs.
Pennsylvanians don't have to look far to see school choice at work. Last week, kids and parents celebrated the 12th anniversary of the Educational Improvement Tax Credit program. The program has allowed hundreds of thousands of children to escape failing schools while saving taxpayers millions of dollars.
In the past two years, five new states have adopted private school choice, and other states have expanded their school choice options, including the Pennsylvania's Opportunity Scholarship Tax Credit—a lifeline for kids trapped in violent and failing schools.
posted by AMY CLINGENSMITH MONGIOVI | 10:44 AM | Comments
A new national school standard known as "Common Core" is fast becoming known for superseding state and local authority over public education curricula. Using cutting edge data collection and analysis techniques, the program is designed to streamline K-12 education and raise our world standing in education.
But a comprehensive study by the American Principles Project warns of increased costs and privacy concerns as the main reasons Common Core may do more harm than good. Why did 45 states sign up for a program that requires them to, "relinquish their autonomy over public education?" Money, of course.
The federal government offered a $4 billion incentive in the form of "Race to the Top" education grants contingent on accepting Common Core standards. All but four states complied, ignoring unanswered questions of cost and quality in favor of a quick money grab.
A growing number of states have begun rethinking their commitment to the curriculum as full implementation approaches later this year, while a coalition of grassroots activists are pushing back here in Pennsylvania.
When it comes to improving public education, there's one proven solution: school choice. Giving parents the freedom to choose the best education for their child is fundamental to boosting student achievement.
That's why the worst feature of Common Core is its one-size-fits-all approach to standards—transferring authority over to bureaucrats and test design consultants rather than families.
StudentsFirst, a bipartisan education reform group, released report cards for all 50 states evaluating individual state education laws and policies—and the news wasn't good for Pennsylvania, which received a "D+" overall. Although 31 states did worse, and the state scored higher on some measures—such as a "B" in comprehensive evaluation of teachers—Pennsylvania is still lagging on important fronts.
On empowering parents with information, for example, Pennsylvania scored an "F." If parents don't have a simple way to assess the performance of local schools, which Pennsylvania currently lacks, how will they know if they need to seek alternative education options for their children? One reform would be to require that each school receive an annual report, which would provide a letter grade (A-F) based on student achievement.
StudentsFirst further recommends that the state be required to notify parents on teacher effectiveness. Another policy factoring into weak parental empowerment: Pennsylvania lacks a parent trigger law that would allow a majority of parents to turn around failing and poorly managed schools.
Pennsylvania also received a "D" on school choice. Although the state has made progress in this area, there is no comprehensive opportunity scholarship program available to all students to escape failing public schools.
Another problem in providing school choice is how we treat charter schools. Only school districts are permitted to authorize charter schools (which, as we've mentioned, is like asking McDonald's to authorize the opening of a new Wendy's next door). This limits charter school growth because districts are reluctant to give up funds to the newly authorized schools. The state should also establish clearer rules for closing down failing charter schools and rewarding good ones, and make funding more equitable across all types of public school options.
To grade states, StudentsFirst used three policy pillars—elevating teaching, empowering parents and using resources wisely—with multiple categories under each pillar. As such, the states ranked 1 and 2 respectively, Florida and Louisiana, have done much to reform public education. Explaining the dismal results for most states, StudentsFirst CEO Michelle Rhee wrote:
Our schools are supposed to be America's great equalizers, ensuring every kid a shot at success. We know, given the right tools, that every student can achieve at high levels. Maybe sending our state education systems home with an "F" or a "D" is the strong jolt lawmakers need to remember that student-centered education policies are the foundations on which strong schools are built.
Pennsylvania State Education Association President Mike Crossey takes issue with the film "Won't Back Down" for not matching "real-life experience" on teachers unions. He's right—in real life, teachers unions are worse than Hollywood depicted.
Our first proposal was a moderate amendment to the teachers union contract, modeled after contracts AFT affiliates had already approved in other districts. The proposal would have maintained Desert Trails as a wall-to-wall unionized, district-run school. The district rejected it.
Then representatives of the district and union struck back with a calculated rescission campaign. Their tactics made the dirty tricks depicted in the movie "Won't Back Down" seem tame by comparison.
They told some parents the school would be shut down as a result of their efforts. They took photographs of the parents who refused to rescind their signatures. Some parents who were undocumented felt their immigration status was being used against them.
That's the real face of union bosses when they're challenged. Courts have finally ruled that Diaz's petition from parents is legitimate, and they can open their new charter school, but she didn't get her quick Hollywood ending because the teachers union blocked her at every step.
Crossey also contends Pennsylvania should be proud that its students do well on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) test, with only a "handful" of states doing significantly better. He neglects to note the actual NAEP proficiencies in reading and math for 4th- and 8th-graders, which hover around 40 percent, and which mean the majority of Pennsylvania children aren't learning at grade level.
Teachers unions are indeed a barrier to improving student performance, largely because they support a host of education policies that create education stagnation: Protecting scale pay, work hours, and weak job performance over student needs; lobbying against proven forms of school choice, such as opportunity scholarships and charter schools; and advocating for higher and higher spending when such spending doesn't improve academic performance.
Educational reality is indeed no match for Hollywood. What parents and children in Pennsylvania face is far more daunting.
A new study of academic performance in Ohio finds that traditional public schools facing competition from charter schools experience greater gains in student learning. In summarizing the findings, the author notes:
The results of this article suggest Ohio traditional public schools have responded positively in academic achievement to the threat of charter schools locating near them. Even after considering the sanctions of No Child Left Behind, the positive estimates yielded close to a tenth of a standard deviation in improvement. In the broader sense, this article indicates that schools, similarly to people and businesses, respond to incentives and consequences.
This trend is clear when looking across the globe as well. Andrew Coulson notes that international comparisons show that countries where students are given more choice do better—even though they spend less per student than American schools.
In fact, according to the latest PISA international test results, the Netherlands, Belgium, Australia, and Canada all significantly outperform the United States in every subject tested. They also all spend less than the United States per pupil, and make use of choice and market incentives such as competition between schools, to varying degrees.
Pennsylvania lawmakers have an opportunity to give parents more control over their children's education. As Jay Ostrich notes in his latest commentary, pending charter school reform legislation would make it easier for charter schools to operate without seeking approval from their competitors and may include a "parent trigger" to empower parents to take control over a public school.
Click here to take action now to empower parents!
Priya wrote about the recent decline in state test scores and in the number of schools making Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP), noting seven facts union bosses don't want you to know.
Here is another: In Pennsylvania's largest cities, charter schools outperformed traditional schools.
In many of the largest, worst-performing districts, charter schools were more likely than district-run schools to make AYP in 2012. In Philadelphia, 13 percent of district schools made AYP, compared with 53 percent of charter schools. In Pittsburgh, 11 percent of district schools made AYP, compared with 39 percent of charter schools in Allegheny County.
|Percentage of Schools Making AYP, 2011-12|
|No. That Made AYP||No. That Missed AYP
|Allegheny Co. Charter||7||11||39%|
|Lehigh Co. Charter||2||2||50%|
|Dauphin Co. Charter||1||1||50%|
|Berks Co. Charter||0||1||0%|
|Lackawanna Co. Charter||1||0||100%|
Lawmakers have a chance to expand public school options this fall. Legislation pending before the General Assembly would reform the state charter school law, including:
- Creating a statewide board that can authorize new charter schools. Currently, only school districts can approve new brick-and-mortar charter schools (the state handles cyber charters), effectively limiting the options for parents. This is like giving McDonald's sole authority to approve new Wendy's locations.
- Increasing ethics rules and accountability measures for charter school operators.
- Providing funding for charter schools directly from the state, rather than through school districts.
- Providing a "parent trigger" whereby parents could convert a failing district school to a charter school. Such measures make schools directly accountable to parents for providing children a quality education. Current legislation would allow this only when 50 percent of parents and 50 percent of teachers support such a conversion. Strengthening such language to allow a group of parents to perform such a turnaround alone would create a meaningful parent trigger.
For more, read our recent Policy Points on the parent trigger, and our policy memo covering PSSA results and charter schools.
Pennsylvania is reeling from the Friday release of student test scores for 2011-12, which show declining student performance in our public schools. Kids did worse on the Pennsylvania System of School Assessments, or PSSAs, the test most widely used to track student progress and measure if the state is meeting goals set by the federal No Child Left Behind law.
The results are disheartening: Overall, 1 in 4 Pennsylvania students are not proficient in math, while nearly 3 in 10 cannot read at grade level. As for the state's 500 school districts, just about 60 percent made "Adequate Yearly Progress" (compared to more than 90 percent last year).
Nor do the results stop at mediocrity—this year, a cheating scandal involving educators marred Pennsylvania's schools. Some 100 educators are in the dock for tampering with students' test responses, which inflated performance in certain districts. The state Department of Education argues the latest test results show Pennsylvania's real state of learning.
Unsurprisingly, school administrators and teachers' union heads are slathering the blame on their usual scapegoat: supposed funding cuts. One superintendent complained his and other school districts are at "bare bones." Michael Crossey, the president of the Pennsylvania State Education Association, or PSEA, fumed:
Who really thinks state government can cut nearly $1 billion from the public schools, cut 14,000 educators, and eliminate programs that work for students—without impacting student achievement?
On the contrary, Mr. Crossey believes practicing the same failed policy in education—more money and more time—will suddenly yield schools full of scholars. Here are seven facts on education funding to demonstrate money is not to blame for lower test scores:
- That $1 billion cut was always coming, and school districts knew this, because education spending increases came as a result of temporary federal stimulus funding.
- We've seen mediocre results despite a doubling in overall K-12 education spending in the last 15 years, from 1996 to 2011. Pennsylvania now spends nearly $15,000 per student on average. By contrast, our performance on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) test, which is both a harder test than the PSSA, and allows us to compare performance with other states, shows only about 40 percent of 4th and 8th-graders are proficient in reading and math with scores unchanged for nearly 10 years.
- Increased spending does not guarantee better academic results. A 2010 study from the 21st Century Partnership for Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics Education (21PSTEM) looked at 30 Pennsylvania school districts that improved the most on 11th grade reading and math performance and the 30 districts that declined the most from 2004 to 2010. Schools that declined in performance had higher increases in total per-student spending.
- Pennsylvania's average composite SAT score in reading and math has hovered around 995 for the last 15 years, despite doubling spending.
- School districts have been increasing spending for several years that don't really match student needs. For example, staffing increased by about 35,000 employees over 10 years, while student enrollment declined about the same amount.
- School districts had more than $3 billion in reserve funds as of 2011, which represents a tripling in 14 years. That is, they've been able to save large portions of their allotted education funds, despite increases in spending and claims of education funding cuts.
- Union labor practices and contracts make adjustments during recessions extremely difficult. Because school districts are contractually obligated to meet a certain level of salaries and benefits, the only way to cope with school district budget deficits is frequently to lay off teachers and other school employees, rather than come up with solutions such as higher employee contributions to health care costs.
In the end, poor test scores, cheating and sloppy spending serve a failed education system instead of children. Kids who never learn to read and do math properly can't get decent jobs. That's the real, and frightening, result of poor PSSAs.
With soaring crime, a city in bankruptcy and families on the financial brink, children trapped in Harrisburg School District have to wonder how bad it can really get. Adding insult to their already well-publicized injury, the Patriot News just reported minutes ago that kids in the embattled district didn't meet minimal academic standards for the tenth straight year.
Despite taxpayers forking out more than $18,000 per pupil per year, more than the annual tuition for a graduate student at Penn State's College of Medicine, a scant 34 percent of students tested at grade level on the Pennsylvania System of School Assessment with only 35 percent in math.
What's worse, the Pennsylvania Department of Education is currently investigating Harrisburg for cheating by changing incorrect test answers to boost scores, according to Superintendent Sybil Knight-Burney.
Unless legislators intend to leave every child left behind then laws that allow parents to choose educational options with money that follows the child seem the only way we end the race to the bottom.
William Marsh would like to hire a couple of good workers for his steel bar manufacturing company in Warminster, Pa. But he has a problem: He can't find good workers to join his team of about 10 employees. The high school graduates who ought to qualify, he says, are "almost totally unable" to do the basic math and reading his business requires:
(We) give applicants a math test, that includes adding, subtracting, multiplication, division and word problems. It is unusual for an applicant to score 50 percent.
It is remarkable when an applicant is able to perform mathematic operations on fractions. As an example, we ask, "What is the decimal equivalent of one-half?" It is not that the applicant does not know the answer (which he does not), it is that he does not understand the question. Similar examples could be given for reading comprehension.
Mr. Marsh isn't just a voice crying in the wilderness: He is one of many manufacturers and business owners in Pennsylvania —and America—suffering from an under-performing educational system. Reporting on the shortage of skilled workers even for small businesses, The Wall Street Journal described one owner whose business installs security alarms and video surveillance. He began giving applicants with no skills a basic alarm manual, and asked them to return when they could operate his alarm panel. None came back.
Beyond business owners, Americans in general recognize public education is struggling. Earlier this month, in a national Gallup poll, Americans ranked public schools fifth—and last—in quality of education, after independent private, parochial/religious, charter and home schools. That translated to only 37 percent of respondents ranking their school as good or excellent. A Rasmussen poll found only 23 percent gave public schools those top ratings.
Marsh says manufacturers can't wait around while public education in Pennsylvania falters—the future of their workforce depends on school reform. "When we look at constraints to our growth, high on the list is education," he said.
Expanding school choice, as happened with Pennsylvania's new opportunity scholarship program, will help get students a better education before they reach employers like Marsh. He should be able to focus on building his business, not worrying if he can find a worker who knows arithmetic.
With kids returning to school this week, here are some fast facts about education spending and performance in Pennsylvania.
- $14,865: The amount Pennsylvania school districts spent per student in the 2010-11 school year.
That comes to $372,000 for a class of 25 students. It also represents $3,000 more than charter schools spend per student, and contrasts with the average Educational Improvement Tax Credit Scholarship of $1,100.
- 93 percent: Increase in public school spending from 1996-97 to 2010-11.
The fastest area of increase is in school construction and debt payments, but all funding sources have grown. Fueling this increase was the fact that schools added staff even as enrollment declined.
- $60,674: Average public school teacher salary in 2010-11.
Teacher pay scales and union-backed laws reward seniority rather than performance, often to the detriment of younger, high quality teachers.
- 61 percent: Proportion of 8th grade students scoring below proficient in math on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP).
- 185,000: Approximate number of students served by Pennsylvania's school choice programs.
Prior to 1996, Pennsylvania had no charter schools, no cyber schools, no Educational Improvement Tax Credit scholarship, and no Opportunity Scholarship program. Today, enrollment in all these options has ballooned, and demand for school choice continues to grow.
|Enrollment in PA School Choice Programs|
|Brick and Mortar Charter||Cyber Charter||EITC K-12 Scholarships||Opportunity Scholarships||Total|
Total Records: 101
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The Commonwealth Foundation is Pennsylvania's free-market think tank. The Commonwealth Foundation crafts free-market policies, convinces Pennsylvanians of their benefits, and counters attacks on liberty.