Lindsay Wagner’s latest piece for the AJ Fletcher Foundation entitled “Are publicly-funded private school vouchers helping low-income kids? We don’t know” showcases one of the primary redundancies purposefully used by funded “school choice” advocates in the quest to make sure that the best way to argue for “freedom in choosing schools” in North Carolina is to control what information parents have in “choosing” educational avenues for their students.
In short, it is easier to hail school choice as a viable means of giving parents freedom as long as what they know about the choices can be controlled.
Wagner focuses much of her article on the most vocal proponent of the school choice movement in North Carolina – Darrell Allison, the leader of PEFNC (Parents for Educational Freedom in North Carolina).
To say that he is the most influential non-law maker on educational reform in the state is not a stretch; his recent appointment to the UNC Board of Governors and his ability to lobby lawmakers in Raleigh certainly gives him more clout than most pro-public school legislators on West Jones Street.
Wagner raises a rather glaring inconsistency when it comes to whether vouchers are really helping low-income students.
The leader of Parents for Educational Freedom in North Carolina, Darrell Allison, said recently that school vouchers aren’t likely to hurt children from low-income households who use them. But he couldn’t say definitively that the voucher program actually helps these children, either.
Why? Because despite the fact that North Carolina spends millions of taxpayers’ dollars each year on vouchers, we have no meaningful data that can tell us if this is an effective way to help poor students who deserve a high quality education (http://ajf.org/publicly-funded-private-school-vouchers-helping-low-income-kids-dont-know/).
What Wagner is referring to is the PEFNC’s official reaction to a Duke University report on the Opportunity Grants that contained a flawed conclusion that was later corrected but did not really diminish the results. As Billy Ball reported on July 14th,
The Duke report, released in March by the school’s Children’s Law Clinic, initially suggested the state’s voucher recipients were not performing as well as their public school peers, although the university later edited that portion, arguing instead that the state lacks sufficient data to draw that conclusion (http://pulse.ncpolicywatch.org/2017/07/14/school-choice-advocates-blast-duke-voucher-report-flawed/#sthash.76QLNaKS.dpbs).
However, the corrected statement by the Duke study team coupled with PEFNC’s statement still gives every indication that people like Darrell Allison do not want to adequately measure how well voucher recipients are performing compared to their public school peers.
“The bottom line is this: We do not yet know how most scholarship students in North Carolina are performing on nationally standardized tests, and we do not know how scholarship students compare to other low-income students not using scholarships,” the group’s paper states.
That refutation from Allison and his cohort is weak. It’s saying that in the three-plus years the state of North Carolina has enacted the Opportunity Grant program and expanded it greatly, it does not really know if it is working.
Allison is claiming victory in the ambiguity. And it is the ambiguity that he wants to remain in the forefront to cloud what really may be the truth: that voucher recipients are not doing as well.
That’s opaque transparency with lots of tax-payer money which is siphoning the resources of traditional public schools which service a vast majority of the low-income students that Allison and PEFNC claim to be helping.
Wagner comments about how hard it is to actually get student achievement data concerning voucher recipients.
… only 11 percent of all voucher schools (that’s 34 schools if you’re counting) were required to publicize their students’ test results at the end of 2016. How students fared at nearly 300 other private voucher schools in North Carolina is unknown…
That’s ridiculous. That’s ludicrous. That’s egregious.
Almost a billion dollars has been set aside in the next decade to fund a program which Allison and PEFNC gleefully defend against Duke’s study as something that is not even measurable. But there is a reason that it is not measureable.
Wagner noted that “Efforts were made this past legislative session to require all voucher schools to use just one national test so that, ultimately, parents can make more of an informed choice—but those efforts failed.”
Why did those efforts fail? God knows with as much back-door dealing in this last session of the NC General Assembly, this “failed effort” was craftily thwarted by those who want vouchers to remain in North Carolina. Would it be too far of a stretch to think that Allison and PEFNC lobbied for that “effort” to fail?
No, because it would have removed any doubt as to whether voucher recipients were doing as well as their public school peers. But if there is any indication that they were not, then the voucher program would be shown to be a “failed effort” in and of itself.
So, “in this context, one must wonder how a parent is supposed to know whether or not a private voucher school is a good choice for his or her child.”
This past week, NC State released a research study entitled “NC State Research Explores How Private Schools, Families Make Voucher Decisions” that explored perceptions of families of voucher recipients (https://news.ncsu.edu/2017/07/nc-state-research-explores-how-private-schools-families-make-voucher-decisions/).
Some very curious observations came out that could use a little explanation from Allison and the PEFNC to shed some light on what the voucher program is actually doing.
That’s not flattering because it can easily be concluded that what vouchers are doing is not allowing for “low-income students” to actually attend reputable private schools because those schools cost lots of money. Private schools are not non-profit entities. They cost money for a reason.
Secondly, students who did use voucher monies tended to already be behind the academic curve. To bring those students up-to-par would require remediation or it may be symptomatic of the fact that many of these students may have come from under-resourced public schools.
And if 71% of parents thought their kids were safer, it may be indicative of the lack of personnel and lack of support the traditional public schools receive. Most private schools are smaller and have lower teacher: student ratios.
But that racial diversity satisfaction percentage? That’s not encouraging if you investigate the socioeconomics of the almost %20 of school age kids in the state.
If most of the recipients of vouchers do not go to proven academic private schools or remain there (over 90% of recipients go to a religious school), and if you negate the ability to actually measure how well academically these voucher recipients are doing compared to public school students all the while slashing funds for DPI and not fully funding existing schools, then it is hard to say that there is really freedom of choice occurring.
Darrell Allison knows that.
If he is certain that voucher recipients are receiving a better education, then he should be the first to push for efforts to accurately measure achievement levels between voucher recipients and public school students.
The fact that he is not and has not for the last few years certainly indicates a willingness to control what many think is a “freedom of choice.”