Available to purchase Here is School Choice: The Findings by Herbert J. Walberg Copyright © 2007 by Cato Institute. It is only 132 pages and written to be very easy to read and follow. Cost for an ebook download is only $5.99 (hardback $14.95, paperback $9.95).
If you want to have a true understanding of the various school choice programs, with summaries of the research on charter schools, vouchers, and public versus private school effectiveness…this is your book! This book is NOT a bunch of opinions, but confines itself largely to empirical research on school choice effects. Far too much of choice discussion involves emotions, protectionism fears and anecdotal stories &/or comments. However, we can NOT set policy according to anecdotes.
Below are a few important highlights, but they in no way cover every important issue or fact you need to know to give you the thorough picture you will need to properly articulate arguments for school choice. Buy the book and arm yourself to enter the debate and join the fight to improve education for the children in Tennessee.
In addition to being ineffective, American public schools are inefficient or unproductive, which is to say they get little return on taxpayers’ dollars. Their per student costs rank among the top two or three countries in recent OECD surveys and have risen substantially over the last few decades. This pattern of low and declining efficiency is at odds with most other American enterprises, in which competition has generally led to improved quality and declining (inflation-adjusted) costs.
Yet American students are not behind in the earliest years of schooling. Their achievement, relative to students in other countries, declines during the years when learning is chiefly the responsibility of schools.
In addition to being ineffective and inefficient, schools can be dangerous places, particularly those in big cities and those serving predominantly poor and minority students. In a recent poll, 73 per-cent of low-income parents and 46 percent of higher-income parents said they worried ‘‘a lot’’ about their children’s exposure to drugs and alcohol at school. Similarly, 65 percent of low-income parents and 39 percent of higher-income parents worried a great deal about their children being assaulted or even kidnapped.
Chapter 1 reviewed evidence on U.S. academic achievement and concluded that, despite having among the highest (and still rising) per student costs in the industrialized world, U.S. schools are among the poorest performers. At the high school level, the United States has among the worst academic achievement test scores of member countries of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. The productivity (academic achievement per dollar spent) of public schools in the United States fell an estimated 55 to 73 percent between the 1970–71 and 1998–99 school years.
Chapter 2 surveyed the research literature on the academic effects of charter schools. Because there are more than 4,000 charter schools in the United States enrolling more than one million students, they offer a sufficiently large database to conduct valid empirical research.
The largest single-point-in-time study of charter schools involved nearly every charter school in the nation and its nearest neighboring traditional public school. The study showed that charter schools outperformed the comparison schools; that poor and Hispanic students achieved particularly well; and that outcomes improved as charter schools were given more autonomy, funding, and time to work out the initial start-up kinks in their operations. Of 26 studies of achievement gains, 22 showed that charter schools yielded either a better or an equal effect. Three over-time studies and one random-assignment study found significant achievement gains by charter school students relative to traditional public school students. Five of seven studies examining the performance of individual charter school students over time showed positive achievement effects.
Harvard University economist Caroline Hoxby’s analysis of demographic patterns of students enrolled in charter schools compared with traditional public schools in Michigan and Arizona showed that charter schools do not ‘‘cream skim or reverse cream skim’’ in any consistent way. Conventional public schools and charter schools enrolled similar percentages of African-American students in Michigan and similar percentages of Latino students in Arizona.
Parents with children enrolled in charter schools are satisfied, but do they accurately evaluate charter school quality? Lewis Solmon and colleagues compared the ratings of 239 charter schools by parents and experts at the Arizona Department of Education. ‘‘Across the board, state officials and parents gave nearly identical grades to the charter schools in question.’’
With the bulk of rigorous studies showing higher levels of achievement among charter school students, and finance studies showing that charter schools receive lower levels of per pupil funding than do traditional public schools, it is clear that charter schools are able to do more with less. They are both more effective and more efficient or productive. Charter schools, moreover, might do even better were they set free of more government regulations, as originally intended.
Chapter 3 reviewed research on public and private school voucher programs in the United States and elsewhere. Unlike some other countries, the United States has no universal K–12 voucher programs currently in operation. Eight random-assignment studies and three non-random-assignment studies of education vouchers all found positive effects on the academic achievement of some groups attending voucher schools but sometimes showed little or no effect on white students. No studies found a negative effect on achievement. The concentration of benefits on African-American students may be attributable to the larger numbers of black students in voucher programs, which makes the statistical detection of effects more likely.
Studies of voucher programs in Washington, DC, Cleveland, and Milwaukee show that they have reduced racial segregation by allowing students in segregated neighborhoods to cross public school boundaries to attend less-segregated schools of their choice. Surveys regularly show high levels of satisfaction among parents who participate in public and private voucher programs.
Programs in other countries are much larger and provide a better test of vouchers. The large majority of studies of these programs have found positive effects on student academic achievement.
Chapter 4 Private School Effects. Today, private schools account for about 11 percent of total K–12 enrollment in the United States. Nearly half of all private schools are Catholic. When comparing costs, we first subtracted from public school budgets all of the expenditures for government-funded programs for poor students and those with limited English and special needs. We also subtracted the extra public school costs of transportation, food services, and central office and community board staff that oversee schools. Even after these adjustments, Catholic schools’ costs per student were only 46.8 percent those of public schools.
In summary, private schools exhibit superior academic achievement levels even after controlling for family socioeconomic status and other factors, though whether such factors can be completely controlled for is a subject of continuing controversy. The reason private schools excel is the way they are organized—strong principals with clear academic visions, the freedom to adopt and pursue policies, etc.—and this organizational form in turn is both made possible and strongly encouraged by market competition, producer autonomy, and consumer choice.
Chapter 5 examined research on the possible competitive effects on achievement in geopolitical regions such as states and metropolitan areas with differing degrees of school choice and local control of schools. Two literature reviews of some 140 studies showed that most studies show positive effects of increases in school choice opportunities on overall student achievement. The most rigorous 50-state study found strong positive effects. The largest international study of school choice effects, as indexed by the percentage of private schools in each of 39 countries, also showed strong positive effects on overall academic achievement. Constructive competition effects are also fostered among public schools in small and decentralized districts that rely more on local than on state funding and control.
Chapter 6 explained why public and parental satisfaction with schools is an important school outcome. Survey data also show that public educators have much lower standards and expectations than those of the public, parents, and students, which is a major reason why these consumers increasingly favor choice.
Parents have the right and duty to guide and oversee their children’s education, have the strongest incentives to do it well, and have shown the ability to choose wisely. And when allowed to choose charter, voucher, or independent or sectarian private schools, parents are more satisfied. Also indicative of discontent with schools is the estimated one million U.S. children being homeschooled.
The results are about as consistent as can be found in the social sciences, and it thus seems clear that school choice works. The intensity of competition within geopolitical areas, moreover, allows, even requires, greater effectiveness and cost-efficiency on the part of surviving providers, public and private. The findings in this book are consistent with these widely documented conclusions, which have led to and are leading to increasing privatization in many countries including the United States.
In 1925 the U.S. Supreme Court upheld their right to choose a public or private school for their children, and in 2002 it upheld their right to do so with the help of a school choice program. As the research reviewed in this book shows, it would be good public policy to give all families ready access to that choice. It is ironic that Americans who regard themselves as free—perhaps as having the freest country in the world—have so little choice when it comes to their children’s education. It is tragic that policy leaders, including governors, legislators, and school boards, have done so little to remedy that situation.