This is my last post about Indiana’s education reform efforts (for now), and it’s likely to be the most contentious.
This fall marks the second year that low AND middle-income students (one way that Indiana differs from most states experimenting with vouchers) are eligible for vouchers to attend private schools. A few days ago AP ran a fascinating story about how Indiana public schools are responding.
Struggling Indiana public school districts are buying billboard space, airing radio ads and even sending principals door-to-door in an unusual marketing campaign aimed at persuading parents not to move their children to private schools as the nation’s largest voucher program doubles in size.
The story has attracted a lot of attention, and generated a certain amount of hand-wringing. From the third paragraph of the AP article:
“If we don’t tell people the great things that are happening in our schools, no one else will, especially not now,” said Renee Albright, a teacher in Fort Wayne. “There are private enterprises that stand to benefit if they can portray us as failed schools.”
Since a big share of the voucher money is going to religious schools that don’t make a profit, this invocation of “private enterprise” is a little misleading. But I still find it curious that “private enterprise” is viewed as a pejorative. Private enterprise, after all, has brought us stunningly better and often less expensive products, and proved much more responsive to consumer demand.
Ah, consumer demand. That’s what really intrigues me about the article. Schools – public schools AND private schools hoping to attract voucher students – find that they need to reach out to their consumers, parents, and make a case that they’re providing an excellent education for their children.
Maybe TV ads and billboards will do the trick; as a parent and a teacher who has taught in Catholic schools that need to persuade parents of their value, I would bet on stronger results, better discipline, and a school culture that welcomes and fosters parent involvement. Can public schools offer that? Absolutely. Will it hurt for them to have to prove it to parents? Voucher opponents will say yes, but I’m betting that the biggest beneficiaries of competition will turn out to be public schools.
This posting could get very, very long, so let me instead direct readers to some interesting recent articles.
A Harvard study of New York City’s private voucher program – published this past Thursday – indicates that vouchers significantly improved the odds that African American students would attend college. This is an especially valuable study because it included a scientific control group (students who applied for but did not receive the vouchers, thereby holding constant for “involved parents”) and employed long-term data (1997-2011). Here’s a Wall Street Journal op-ed reporting the data:
And here’s a link to the study itself:
The American Enterprise Institute published a short piece responding to the AP article; it makes the argument for competition.
Here’s an article from last week’s Economist – which if anything proves that Indiana’s experiment is world news:
And finally, a useful warning note for voucher supporters. Many private schools in Indiana saw their test scores drop as they admitted voucher students. No huge surprise – if anything, it suggests that the private schools were, in fact, achieving higher educational standards (and probably educating a different demographic, as well.)
Utah voters decided that the state should not take this path, at least for now. But it will be interesting to see what happens in Indiana . . . and Louisiana. More on Louisiana next week.
Welcome back to school, by the way.