Here a conservative columnist confronts the flavor of the day in education — "Waiting for Superman" and the presumed superiority of school choice programs.
Oops. There's no evidence yet that any of the favored strategies — charter schools, voucher, merit pay — reliably produce better test scores, supposedly the indisputable measure of school worthiness.
An education scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, Hess supports just about every imaginable path to increasing competition in education: charter schools, merit pay for teachers, vouchers, even for-profit academies.
But he also recognizes that partisans of school choice tend to wildly overpromise — implying that their favored policies could swiftly Lake Wobegonize America, and make every school and student above average. (This is a trap, alas, that “Waiting for ‘Superman’” falls into as well.)
Overpromising leads inevitably to disappointment. When it comes to raising test scores, the grail of most reformers, school choice’s record is still ambiguous. For every charter school success story like the Harlem Children’s Zone and the KIPP network — both touted in Guggenheim’s documentary — there’s a charter school where scores are worse than the public school status quo. The same is true for vouchers and merit pay: the jury is still out on whether either policy consistently raises academic performance.
So what do you do? The radicals have an idea: tie spending to students and further wreck conventional public school systems by allowing each to take the money wherever, even to unproven charter and private schools. Now we're getting at what this is really all about.