Reports From Three States Show School Choice Programs Results Still Mixed

There’s an ongoing dialogue nationally about how school choice programs deliver better results for school students.  Three recent reports from Louisiana, Michigan, and Ohio call into question the effectiveness of K-12 voucher lotteries and charter schools.

Louisiana, for example, has the fifth-largest voucher program in the country, which began in 2008 in New Orleans and expanded to the entire state in 2012. Students from families with incomes below 250 percent of the Federal Poverty Limit are eligible for vouchers averaging $5,311 per student, as long as their public schools are low performing (about all of the state’s public schools). Researchers found that achievement scores of voucher lottery winners dropped significantly in their first year of attending private school in math, social studies and science.

The Brookings Institute, which analyzed the research, noted that “the results suggest that the participating private schools need to provide far more support for voucher students when they enter. If the voucher students continue to perform poorly, Louisiana needs to overhaul the criteria used for including schools in the voucher program—or shut down the program altogether.”

In Michigan, a report released by the nonpartisan Education Trust-Midwest, found the state’s charter school authorizers need performance-based accountability because Michigan’s charter schools’ performance remains “terribly low.” About 20 percent of Michigan charter school openings between fall 2011 and fall 2015 were by “D” and “F” authorizers. While some poor-performing schools closed recently, other failing schools continue to operate. The report found that 80 percent of Michigan charters demonstrate academic achievement below the state average in both reading and math; however, it applauded a handful of “high-achieving” charter schools at which African-American students excel at reading at or above grade level.

“Presently no one – not even Governor Rick Snyder – holds authorizers accountable for their academic performance, despite the fact that their authorized schools serve nearly 145,000 Michigan children, and charter schools take in more than $1 billion dollars of taxpayer dollars annually,” the report stated.

In Ohio, The Columbus Dispatch found that Ohio’s charter schools continue to struggle. Analyzing recent state report cards, the Dispatch said that more than 80 percent of Ohio’s charter high schools got an “F” on their ability to graduate students on time in four years; those schools enroll more than 42,000 students. No charter high schools were in the top 10 of schools graduating students on time, and only two charters were given an “A” rating. The median percentage of students graduating on time after four years at high schools in the Big 8 districts was 71.2 percent, compared with 56.3 percent at charters.

In terms of literacy improvement, about 8 percent of Ohio’s charter schools rated A or B. No charter schools in Ohio’s larger cities of Cincinnati, Canton or Youngstown were rated A or B for helping youngsters read, and all of Canton’s charter schools received F’s.

These three states are examples that are worth continued monitoring. The recent trend is that school choice programs have diverted funds away from public schools, with mixed results at best, and without the same standards and oversight that public schools face. The only way to ensure all children have the same opportunity at a high-quality education, regardless of where they live and where they choose to attend school, is to apply the same accountability standards to all schools – public charters and traditional public schools alike.

ACS has deep knowledge and expertise in this area and through its client work engages policymakers, media, and community members on the importance of accountability for all schools to help all kids succeed. Want to know more about our work in this area? Need a speaker for an upcoming conference or event? Contact us!

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