The idea that parents should have the right to remove their children from low-performing schools and enroll them in high-performing schools is the brainchild of Milton Friedman, a Nobel Laureate in economics. Friedman's idea is quite simple. If there was real competition for students by schools, quality would improve. It is this way in business. Why not in schools as well. The argument rests on two factors. 1) The definition of school performance and the measurement used to determine performance. 2) That competition is, indeed, a factor in school performance. On both these counts, the school choice zealots seem to get it wrong. |
School Choice: Performance and Measurement School choice advocates are closely tied to the standards movement in the United States. Both define performance as the outcome of standardized achievement testing. One reporting standard of the achievement test is Grade Level Equivalency (GLE).
GLE appears to be a measure of student growth. In fact, it is nothing more than a measure of the mean score. Because the achievement test most closely correlates to IQ testing, the mean score is expected to remain flat over time for an individual student. What this means is that GLE is a function of the mean and should remain flat over time as well. The cleverness of the GLE reporting format is that it suggests a false sense of achievement. Say your child in third-grade has a GLE in reading of 6.3. This does not mean that s/he reads at the level of a sixth grader. Rather is means that your child is about one standard deviation above the mean on this particular test.
Flawed Measurements If the standard achievement test does not measure achievement, and if the test reporting is designed to deceive, it follows that the test is of little value for determining student performance. But the school choice zealot defines student performance as the result of a single annual achievement test. In one long-term study, the authors found that the standard achievement tests were not the best measure of student performance. To the contrary, when they applied multiple layers of learning and impact on both school and student, they found that more than half the schools classified as low-performing were, in fact, doing quite well. They also found that an equivalent number of high-performing schools were, through impact measurements, low-performing. It seems clear that using a single measurement for determining school performance is flawed.
Findings suggest that when using the achievement test as the sole measure of success, that success is closely correlated to race and income class. When using measures of learning impact, the socioeconomic factors simply fade away. Another reason that single testing is flawed.
School Choice: What about Competition? The idea that when schools compete for students, the quality of the product delivery also improves. Perhaps as an idea for business, this makes sense. For delivery of public services, however, it seems not so much. In a longitudinal study comparing private to public schools on the basis of performance, that competition provided no measurable impact on performance. What did make a significant difference, at least for the public schools, was public funding of schools. The higher the funding, the smaller the class size. The smaller the class size, the greater the performance. It follows that competition is not the factor that influences performance. It is the willingness or ability of a community to fund their public schools.
Funding was closely tied to community income and to racial and ethnic minority communities. The wealthier a community, the better the school performance. Communities consisting of largely minority and poor people performed less well.
School Choice: Conclusion To continue the use of performance and competition arguments to justify the privatization of the American public school is, frankly, dishonest and misleading. Yet, here we are being bullied by a relatively small group to mark social and economic differences as a means of protecting the majority from imagined fears. It is unAmerican to advocate for such a position.
Dr. Roger Passman earned his degree in language and literacy from National-Lewis University. He began his career as a middle-school teacher in Chicago. After graduate school, he accepted a position of assistant professor at Texas Tech University in Lubbock, Texas. He ultimately retired as an associate professor at Northeastern Illinois University. He co-authored a book, Teaching Writing in the Inclusive Classroom, authored a number of papers published in scholarly journals, and presented the results of his research at academic conferences internationally. His interests included structural language, teaching and learning, and public policy. He is the founder and principal author at Progressive Education Now blog.
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