Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Then why should taxes pay for vouchers?

Apparently, parent involvement matters more to a "low-income, urban" child's academic achievement than whether she attends a private school or public school, according to a study reported today in USA Today. If this is true, then it means the sponsors of House Bill 148 were fundamentally wrong in drafting and promoting their universal statewide voucher plan for Utah schoolchildren. There really is no evidence that children in poor families would excel in private schools just because they're private schools.

Reporter Greg Toppo says here ( the study by the Center on Education Policy "examine[d] 12 years of data on more than 1,000 young people and [found] that they didn't get much of an advantage by attending private schools."

I suspect that Paul Mero and the Sutherland Institute is already working on a response to say that USA Today is wrong, or that the 12 years of data was misinterpreted, or that the researchers picked the 1,000 kids to get the result they wanted. But unless Mr. Mero is able to prove those charges, I'm happy that someone has finally generated conclusions from clear, objective facts.

Though the SAT scores of students in private schools were higher than the scores of their public-school peers, their overall performance in math, reading, science and history was no better. They were no more likely to go to college or be more satisfied with their job at age 26 - they weren't even more likely to be civic-minded as adults. "This certainly will challenge people in the presumptions that private schools are superior to public schools," says Jack Jennings, the center's president.

The study backs up findings saying that the differences between urban public and private schools are small - and often too small to measure. It also suggests that forcing public and private schools to compete through taxpayer-financed vouchers is merely a "diversion" from a more substantial education debate, Jennings says.

In the end, Jennings says, the biggest factors were how much money parents earned, whether they were involved in day-to-day schoolwork and what their long-term expectations were. "There may be ways to improve schools," he says, "but we have to be very conscious of what parents bring to schools."

I've always believe that was common sense, but it's helpful to have it spelled out in facts and figures, too. I found the whole report and a summary of it, and the press release announcing its finding, here (but it's a PDF file, so I can't cut and paste it): Enjoy.