by Max Brantley
Several complaints have arisen this morning that the House Education Committee, which is hearing several so-called "school choice" bills this morning, that only supporters of the bilsl are being allowed in the room. Security guards blocked further admissions after advocates of the legislation, most wearing matching yellow T-shirts, took a good portion of available space. Opponents have since been excluded, along with at least one news reporter, John Lyon of Stephens Media. Lyon later gained admittance.
Choice is a one-way street, apparently. Private school vouchers and legislation to prevent merger of districts that fall below 350 students are among the topics.
UPDATE: The committee endorsed legislation to suspend consolidation of school districts based only on insufficient enrollment.
The committee has now turned to vouchers for private school students. Patrick Wolf, one of the UA faculty paid by the Waltons to advance their "school choice" agenda, again cheerled the movement and cited his own study of a Washington, D.C. opportunity scholarship program in support. Here's what that report said, BTW:
• There is no conclusive evidence that the OSP affected student achievement. On average, after at least four years students who were offered (or used) scholarships had reading and math test scores that were statistically similar to those who were not offered scholarships (figure ES-2). The same pattern of results holds for students who applied from schools in need of improvement (SINI), the group Congress designated as the highest priority for the Program. Although some other subgroups of students appeared to have higher levels of reading achievement if they were offered or used a scholarship, those findings could be due to chance. They should be interpreted with caution since the results were no longer significant after applying a statistical test to account for multiple comparisons of treatment and control group members across the subgroups.
• The Program significantly improved students’ chances of graduating from high school. Although students may not have raised their test scores in reading and math as a result of the OSP, they graduated at higher rates. The offer of an OSP scholarship raised students’ probability of completing high school by 12 percentage points overall (figure ES-3). The graduation rate based on parent-provided information was 82 percent for the treatment group compared to 70 percent for the control group. The offer of a scholarship improved the graduation prospects by 13 percentage points for the high priority group of students from schools designated SINI in 2003-05 (79 percent
graduation rate for the treatment group versus 66 percent for the control group).
• The OSP raised parents’, but not students’, ratings of school safety and satisfaction
(figures ES-4 and ES-5). Parents were more satisfied and felt school was safer if their child was offered or used an OSP scholarship. The Program had no effect on students’ reports on school conditions.
Wolf emphasized the graduation rate, not the test scores, naturally. Diane Ravitch says the voucher programs DON'T work, if you look comprehensively at groups of like students. She didn't testify today. Many anecdotes were offered of parents happy about their decision to go to a private school.
Wolf isn't happy about Ravitch, to put it mildly. He's jumped her for her use of his work in opposing vouchers. She writes more about that here. As in this hearing today, the Waltonites don't much like having more than one side presented.
Questions on the committee included the lack of provisions for special ed students and the lack of standards for private schools. Sponsor Randy Alexander said the state shouldn't be dictating rules to private schools. But, he was told, the state Supreme Court has directed both equality and adequacy in publicly financed education. Alexander said parents should be the judge of whether a school and its teachers are adequate. Which is an earth-changing view, to put it mildly, of public education.
School officials, including Education Director Tom Kimbrell, raised a host of questions about the proposal, including a drain of state money, a lack of accreditation for the schools, the fact that it would be the most liberal voucher program in the country and, effectively, discriminate against the poor who couldn't afford the additional money necessary to add to state payments to attend more expensive private schools. Speakers also directrly questioned Wolf's assertion that studies uniformly show better outcomes for voucher students. As Ravitch has made clear, they don't, including Wolf's own studies, such as the one quoted above.
Alexander closed for the bill by trashing Arkansas public schools.
The voucher bill failed on a voice vote. It was moved to interim study, which kills it for this session.