A conservative think tanker who supports school choice programs -- charters, vouchers -- might surprise you with an op-ed in today's Times.
He notes that a major study of the country's oldest and most extensive charter school program, in Milwaukee, shows charter schoolers with advancement little different than that of students in conventional public schools.
This is just one of several evaluations of school choice programs that have failed to show major improvements in test scores, but the size and age of the Milwaukee program, combined with the rigor of the study, make these results hard to explain away.
So let’s not try to explain them away. Why not instead finally acknowledge that standardized test scores are a terrible way to decide whether one school is better than another? This is true whether the reform in question is vouchers, charter schools, increased school accountability, smaller class sizes, better pay for all teachers, bonuses for good teachers, firing of bad teachers — measured by changes in test scores, each has failed to live up to its hype.
It should come as no surprise. We’ve known since the landmark Coleman Report of 1966, which was based on a study of more than 570,000 American students, that the measurable differences in schools explain little about differences in test scores. The reason for the perpetual disappointment is simple: Schools control only a small part of what goes into test scores.
We are back to parents and homes, of course. The more controversial notion in this piece is the writer's suggestion that parents should be given the ability to choose the types of schools they want for their kids whether objective measures demonstrate they work or not. Since the conservatives who called for strict accountability through testing for charter schools have determined the charter school movement, as a whole, doesn't produce any gains, a new strategy is necessary. It's back to vouchers, which is where it all began.