by Max Brantley
And now the Trump administration says it wants school choice policies that are “evidence-based…to improve student achievement.” But we have had charter schools and voucher programs since 1990, and there is a growing body of data showing that they do not improve student achievement. Milwaukee opened charter schools and a voucher program for poor children in 1990. It now has three competing sectors: public schools, charter schools, and voucher schools. The latter two sectors get to choose their students and prefer to avoid students with profound disabilities or who are in the process of learning English. The public schools are required to take all comers. Nonetheless, there is little if any difference in test results among the three sectors. And Milwaukee is one of the lowest performing urban districts in the nation on the federal tests called the National Assessment of Educational Progress. No rising tide there.DeVos will enjoy some support from billionaires like the Waltons. Already their tune has switched in Arkansas. If a charter school (see Covenant Keepers in Little Rock ) is failing, no problem. If Walton propagandists at the University of Arkansas can find a couple of public schools doing just about as poorly as a charter that's justification enough to keep the public dollars flowing to the charter school. If the parents of kids left behind are happy, well, OK.
There are voucher programs in several states, such as Louisiana, Ohio, and Indiana. Recent evaluations have found that voucher students in those states did not perform as well academically as their peers in the public schools. Earlier this year, a federally funded evaluation of the voucher program in the District of Columbia, established by a Republican–led Congress in 2004, found that, on average, students who used the voucher had worse test scores than their peers who remained in public schools.
DeVos, who has spent decades advocating for school vouchers, responded to the poor results by saying: “When school choice policies are fully implemented, there should not be differences in achievement among the various types of schools.” But if the goal is to “improve student achievement,” this seems an admission of failure.