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Friday, January 20, 2006 

Doyle's Weak School Choice Plan

Doyle supporters like Xoff have been trumpeting the greatness of Governor Doyle's proposal about the current voucher situation. It's been summarized as...
Doyle Proposal

Increase school voucher cap from 15% to 18%

Eliminate all prior-year eligibility rules, thereby allowing children to participate in the voucher program regardless of where they attended school the previous year
Increase the income eligibility cap for families who want to participate in the voucher program from 175% to 220% of the federal poverty level.

Allow MPS to count each voucher student at a rate of 45%, phased in over five years, when calculating state aid; all of the funds that come from this must be used by MPS for instruction.

Starting in the 2007-2008 school year, increase SAGE funding from $2000 per participating student to $2500 per participating student

Increase the enrollment cap on the Racine Charter School from 400 to 480

Implement mandatory WKCE standardized testing in grades 3-8 and 10 of all schools participating in the voucher program

Starting in the 2007-2008 school year, make it mandatory for all voucher program schools to be accredited by one of a number of specified independent accrediting authorities
Not good enough. Not even close. Raising the cap by 3% doesn't go far enough. The program should be open to anyone who wants to participate. If a child in a MPS school is not getting a good education for the $11,334 per year that the taxpayers are spending on it, then that child should be able to get a voucher and go elsewhere.

The testing issue is a problem too. Here is what David Salisbury of the Cato Institute has to say...
Requiring private schools to give state-selected achievement tests would have harmful effects on the participating private schools. Some private schools would have to give up the curriculum they have designed for their own students and teach the state-sanctioned curriculum instead.

That would kill the diversity and vitality of the private schools. Many state tests emphasize fuzzy math over traditional math, and stress the use of "culturally diverse texts" over traditional classical literature, a staple of many effective private schools.
A lot of this testing talk is just a means to control the private schools. Let's say that Doyle gets his way and his chosen test is used to measure the quality of the private schools. The private schools don't want to look bad based on these test results. They will abandon their chosen curriculum in order to "teach for the test" as it has been called. That kills the whole idea behind school choice: parents should chose the kind of school that they want for their kids. The private schools that once offered a diverse range of educational programs will now be forced to teach for Doyle's test or look like they are "failing". And believe me, if they look like they are "failing" based on the test, school choice opponents will be happy to claim that as proof that school choice doesn't work.

My private high school had a different curriculum than most public high schools. We had more of a Classical education than what is currently taught in public schools. There was a lot of philosophy, a lot of civics, a lot of books by dead white guys. That's the education that my parents wanted me to have, and I think that I'm doing just fine with it. Of course, that meant that I was more likely to read Paradise Lost than Heather has Two Mommies (Okay, weird comparison since they are at different reading levels, but you get the point.), but I think that's a call that parents should make for their kids.

This policy analysis from Cato also shows that private schools are much less likely to participate in school choice programs if government regulation will interfere with their core qualities. "Core qualities" includes the ability to design and teach a curriculum of their own choosing. Is that one of the purposes of all of this testing, to drive the established, principled schools away from the entire choice program? If so, very crafty, Doyle.

More from Salisbury...
Private schools have legitimate reasons for selecting one type of test over another. Some prefer the Iowa Test of Basic Skills because they think it tests for a more traditional coverage of the curriculum. Others prefer the Stanford-9 or the CAT.

Some private schools shun standardized tests altogether, choosing to rely instead on more holistic measures of student progress.

The fact that most private schools don't want to administer state tests doesn't mean that they are not serious academic institutions with rigorous standards of excellence. It simply means that their curriculum and standards are different than those of government schools.

Most state standards have no empirical basis. Rather, state standards and tests are typically an awkward compromise between disparate factions of the professional education community, many of which are influenced by fads and politically correct thinking.
Doyle's supporters will claim that they want accountability. If they think that meeting a clumsily set state standard assures a quality education, then they are sorely mistaken. Hasn't it been the political Left that has done nothing be berate standardized testing for years? Now it's the lynchpin of school choice regulation?

I know that there will be cries and moans from people about this. "Well I don't want my tax money going to fund a Catholic education or an Islamic education or a military education." Well, tough. I don't want my tax money being wasted in the public school system as it currently is. I want parents empowered and involved in their kids' education. Continuing to dump money into a broken system is not going to do that. An innovative, flexible, and diverse market-based system will.

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