Want more school choices? Give more students choice

Georgia students attend a school choice rally in Atlanta, January 2014. (AJC/Kent D. Johnson)

Georgia students attend a school choice rally in Atlanta, January 2014. (AJC/Kent D. Johnson)

We’re about to get a much clearer look at the biggest opportunity left in Nathan Deal’s time as governor.

Deal appointees soon will begin approving ideas for lifting Georgia’s public schools out of 20th century structures for receiving state funding, paying (future) teachers, educating preschoolers and moving students through the system. Taken together, and once they’ve gone through the legislative process, these ideas could transform our schools for the better.

Deal also charged members of his Education Reform Commission with expanding school choice options, particularly for children from low-income families. But if that element of the plan is to reach its maximum potential, the vision needs to be broader.

Good choice measures will spur creativity by educators. But they also need to prompt creation by educators — as in new options that don’t exist today. That’s how we’ll get real competition and the improvements in quality that come with it. To get there, we need choice to be as universal, and parent-driven, as possible.

To understand why, consider this explanation from Jay Greene, professor of education reform at the University of Arkansas. The following passages from a recent blog entry by Greene address the notion that new school options should be heavily regulated, including rules about student family income.

“The only equity of access that is promoted by the heavy-regulation approach is that everyone is equally unable to access schools that refuse to participate in the programs,” Greene writes. “In their desire to protect disadvantaged students, the backers of this heavy-regulation approach have ironically done serious harm to these students by driving away most of the supply. And the minority of private schools that are willing to participate are likely to include many of the lower-quality schools.

“Who,” he continues, “is most likely to be willing to abandon control over their admissions, accept tiny voucher amounts as payment in full for serving the lowest-achieving students, and is willing to take the state achievement tests? Financially desperate private schools with a lot of empty seats are likely to be first in line to accept these terms. High-quality private schools may at most make a token number of seats available. Rather than protecting access and ensuring quality, heavy regulation is having the opposite effect.”

Transparency, so that parents know how their students are performing relative to others, is one thing. Adjusting the money available based on student need could also work. But heavy regulation is wrong-headed for another reason that ought to be obvious.

“The whole problem with the high-regulation approach is that it falsely believes regulators can define, identify and require good outcomes,” Greene writes. “If that were in fact possible, we would have already solved the problem, and we could have done so without any school choice.”

The mindset that we can only “afford” school choice for a few assumes education funding belongs to public schools. Take the approach that education funding exists to provide the best education possible for each child, and things look a lot different.

Reader Comments 0

102 comments
M H Smith
M H Smith

Glad the State has online accredited schools K-12. 

Hedley_Lammar
Hedley_Lammar

The management companies you hear of are just an LLC that will rake in the profits. The focus will be on profit NOT on education.


Its a shell game. 

Point
Point

@Kyle_Wingfield  How about removing regulations from public schools first and see if that solves the problems?

Hedley_Lammar
Hedley_Lammar

@Kyle_Wingfield @Hedley_Lammar  At least in that respect there is a bidding process etc. And I believe Georgia is a sunshine state in that respect. I know I have bid for Georgia school contracts to setup computer labs


They go with whoever is dirt cheapest.


No such relationship exists between the Charters and the " Management Companies "

Kyle_Wingfield
Kyle_Wingfield moderator

@Point Such as ... ?

I would give all of them the same relief charters get, in exchange for the same accountability charters face. Deal?

Kyle_Wingfield
Kyle_Wingfield moderator

@Hedley_Lammar "I'm pretty sure"

I'm sure you are. And for you, I'm sure that's also enough of a basis of fact for you to roll with for all eternity.

Quick question: How many charter schools in Georgia use these management companies?

Point
Point

@Kyle_Wingfield @Point  Deal.  Since all systems in GA had to choose charter or IE2, let's give them the 5 years under this model that charters are allowed for start-up and we can evaluate outcomes then.

Kyle_Wingfield
Kyle_Wingfield moderator

@Point Reforms for public schools and expanded choice needn't be mutually exclusive. Part of the reason we need choice is because even very good schools don't serve every single student well.

Hedley_Lammar
Hedley_Lammar

@Kyle_Wingfield @Hedley_Lammar   I wouldn't even begin to dig for the data even if it did exist. 


I would imagine all of them have some other entity that bills them creatively. 


Otherwise they would have to show profit and we know that is illegal *wink* *wink*

Kyle_Wingfield
Kyle_Wingfield moderator

@Hedley_Lammar "I would imagine"

That's all you're doing here, with any of this: imagining what needs to be so in order for your position to be defensible. 

Hedley_Lammar
Hedley_Lammar

@Kyle_Wingfield @Hedley_Lammar I haven't heard a thing to make me think otherwise.


All I see here is dollar signs being put on kids by people who gave a lot of money to Georgia to setup a system they could profit from.

Kyle_Wingfield
Kyle_Wingfield moderator

@Hedley_Lammar OK, let's have each district also operate its own construction teams and textbooks publishers. Wouldn't want them making any profits, either.

Kyle_Wingfield
Kyle_Wingfield moderator

@Hedley_Lammar I'm sure those two statements describe you accurately. But your problem is what you refuse to hear or see.

Point
Point

I don't believe public schools were created to serve every single student but to educate a majority of students who could not afford private schools or chose to attend parochial schools. I have no problem with supporting charters that are innovative and actually improve student outcomes, not test scores. However, I absolutely disagree with public funds going to private or parochial schools.

AvgGeorgian
AvgGeorgian

@Kyle_Wingfield @Point


It's may be a great deal for charters. Have you looked up the accountability for charters? Is there a place where these are posted with yearly results so the taxpayer can evaluate progress? My guess is many charters have weaker accountability than public schools.


Provost Academy, a state charter school has failed CCRPI every year, is still in business, and refuses to post salary, travel, and vendor data as do RPS - Real Public Schools. So what is the accountability for Provost? What are their charter goals?

Kyle_Wingfield
Kyle_Wingfield moderator

@AvgGeorgian "Is there a place where these are posted with yearly results so the taxpayer can evaluate progress?"
Yes: https://scsc.georgia.gov/2013-2014-scsc-academic-accountability

Now, kindly point me to the school-level financial information available for your local traditional public schools. Note I said school-level, not district-level.

As for Provost, here's its charter contract, easily found on the State Charter Schools Commission's website: https://scsc.georgia.gov/sites/scsc.georgia.gov/files/related_files/document/Provost_FE.pdf

Kyle_Wingfield
Kyle_Wingfield moderator

@AvgGeorgian And here is the comprehensive framework for reporting state charters' performance in academics, finances and governance. It will be implemented for all charters starting next fall. It might have been done earlier, had we not had that stupid court fight a few years ago to shut down the charter commission before it was reinstated by constitutional amendment ...

https://scsc.georgia.gov/sites/scsc.georgia.gov/files/related_files/site_page/SCSC_Comprehensive_Performance_Framework_Indicators_and_Weights_Approved.pdf

Please tell me where I can find comparable financial and governance information about your local traditional schools.

Kyle_Wingfield
Kyle_Wingfield moderator

@Point Why no public funds for private or parochial schools if they're better positioned to improve a student's outcomes? And just out of curiosity, how would you measure outcomes?

Point
Point

@Kyle_Wingfield @Point I'll agree to funds for private school if they take every student  that applies.  Parochial is different.  A majority of Georgians are not comfortable with any religion other than Christian.  I can see some heads exploding if schools of other religions are publicly funded. 


I prefer students be able to think critically and have the ability to solve problems.  Excessive testing has left us with people who can only solve fill in the blank or multiple choice options.  You can measure their achievement but that is not a skill required on the job!

Kyle_Wingfield
Kyle_Wingfield moderator

@Point Point taken on excessive testing, but then how do you measure outcomes? Graduation rates, or eventually postsecondary graduation rates for a given HS class, are the ultimate measuring sticks. But we need to measure progress along the way. So if not testing, what?

Point
Point

@Kyle_Wingfield @Point  My opposition to testing is it's excessive and measures a small window in the student's school year. . Also, everything in the world is tied to test scores.  States have lowered requirements so it appears that students are successful so what purpose does it really serve?  I spoken with many teachers who know students in their class need additional resources but their test scores are a couple of points above the magic line that dictates who receives services.  Teacher recommendations should be considered.  That being said,  I would suggest standardized  testing at 4th, 8th and 10th grades only.


I know we live in a data oriented world and everybody needs proof of outcomes.  It's difficult to measure humans, but if we can produce graduates with critical thinking skills and a desire to obtain gainful employment and move out of their parents house, we have been successful.

Point
Point

@Kyle_Wingfield @Point @AvgGeorgian  District spending can be found on opengagov as well.  Other expenditures column next to salaries and travel, then payments, then you can choose any local board of education to see expenditures for the last three fiscal years. Not broken down by schools but still information available to the public by district.  Also school districts are subject to yearly audits.

Kyle_Wingfield
Kyle_Wingfield moderator

@Point Yes, but @AvgGeorgian has been demanding school-level information for charters as if it exists for traditional public schools. That is my point here.

Hedley_Lammar
Hedley_Lammar

 The state purposely makes the data vague. Why?


To muddy the waters of course. That is a no brainer.


Let's further let low and middle income taxpayers donate money to their local public schools in return for a tax credit. 


Most teachers I know already do this. They take many dollars a year out of their own pockets to make up for the shortfall in funding. I doubt they are reimbursed. 

Point
Point

@Hedley_Lammar  Yes I recently read that teaching is the only profession where you steal from your own home to take to your classroom.

Lennie Jarratt
Lennie Jarratt

Mr. Wingfield is exactly correct. The more parents have options the more choices there will be available. These parents will then be able to hold these providers more accountable than any politician ever could. $5000 to $7000 in the hands of every parent to vote with their feet will be much more valuable in accountability than voting at a ballot box for a school board (mostly backed by the government unions) or the local elected officials.

Education options will be abundant with full choice availability.

 FYI: Wealthy parents already have education choice, they can afford it. It's the low and middle income students that it helps the most.

AvgGeorgian
AvgGeorgian

@Lennie Jarratt


Since wealthier people can already afford private school and have a choice, let's let them do without the voucher and give it to low and middle income students. 


Let's further let low and middle income taxpayers donate money to their local public schools in return for a tax credit. This would help solve the "failing" schools problem and give all taxpayers a choice.


Choice for all taxpayers - I like your thinking.

AvgGeorgian
AvgGeorgian

We have this no strings attached system in place already. Mostly wealthy people and corporations get a tax credit for giving money to private schools for scholarships that go to mostly wealth families.


Each family in GA has to make up for these tax credits by paying and average of $18 dollars a year(math check is welcome). 


The private school tax credit was sold as a way to let poor kids escape bad schools but was really a plan to get all taxpayers to fund wealthy folks private school tuition.


So - you can see how I am skeptical.

AvgGeorgian
AvgGeorgian

@Kyle_Wingfield @AvgGeorgian


Yes Kyle, the top quartile is wealthy - especially to the 75% of Georgians who make less.


Interesting that we didn't see a distribution of incomes in the top quartile. A passing acquaintance with statistics would make one think the incomes may be much higher than appears.


Also, why don't we have the non-identifying stats on incomes distribution of the individuals and corporations who got the tax credit. i had to make up the difference and i would like to know.

Kyle_Wingfield
Kyle_Wingfield moderator

@AvgGeorgian As I pointed out in that piece, the top quartile starts at only $62,000, and as income isn't adjusted for family size it's even possible for a student in the top quartile to qualify for free/reduced lunch. I personally would like to see the incomes broken down by decile just to make clear that really wealthy people aren't getting the scholarships. But in any case, the numbers prove that 77% of the recipients are from the bottom three quartiles -- rendering your claim that this is really just about "fund(ing) wealthy folks private school tuition" utterly false.

As for the stats on income distribution of tax credit claimants -- again, do we collect and report such information for other tax credits? Or should we only do it for the ones you don't like?

Finally, regarding this: "i had to make up the difference and i would like to know."

Believe what you want, but that's almost certainly not true. As a Georgia State study last year found, the program broke even if even two-thirds of the scholarship recipients were "switchers" from public schools. As already stated, 77% of the recipients' families earned less than $62,000 last year. It is highly likely that each of those students was a "switcher," meaning the program very likely saved taxpayers money.

Kyle_Wingfield
Kyle_Wingfield moderator

@AvgGeorgian "Only $62,000" of course = "not wealthy enough to easily pay $15-20K a year for private school," which I took to be your implication.

Kyle_Wingfield
Kyle_Wingfield moderator

@AvgGeorgian Further to my point, and from the earlier article:

"Another instructive example comes from Arete Scholars. To receive a scholarship from Arete, one’s family income must be below 185 percent of the federal poverty level (full award) or no more than 245 percent of FPL (partial award).

"So it’s worth noting that even Arete in 2013 awarded 44 scholarships to families in the top quartile. Why? Because, as we’ve seen, not everyone in the top quartile is actually affluent."

Kyle_Wingfield
Kyle_Wingfield moderator

@AvgGeorgian "Bottom line is the scholarships go mostly to the top 50% of income earners(wealthier than the bottom half who has to help make up the difference) "

This is a non sequitur. First, about half the scholarships also go to the lower half of income earners -- but that undercuts your talking point about the program being for "the rich." Second, as I've already pointed out below, it's highly likely that taxpayers on the whole are saving money through the program. Third, even if taxpayers weren't saving money, it would be more likely that higher earners were "mak(ing) up the difference" because they pay more absolute dollars in our tax system.

AvgGeorgian
AvgGeorgian

@Kyle_Wingfield @AvgGeorgian


Arete is only one provider.


The state purposely makes the data vague. Why? Just report the specific data and let the taxpayer decide how s/he feels about it.


Bottom line is the scholarships go mostly to the top 50% of income earners(wealthier than the bottom half who has to help make up the difference) and there is not data on school switchers that shows this does not cost the taxpayer extra money. The data could easily be provided but is not.

Roger Mook
Roger Mook

Speaking of School Choice, has anyone seen this new School Choice Music Video that is out?  I found it today looking for education news this morning.  Looks like it is some form of Rap Satire Video, its pretty funny.  
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=B252ninTZqM

AvgGeorgian
AvgGeorgian

Let's see - is the idea to give vouchers to spent on schools that are unregulated, do not provide performance data, and not accountable to the taxpayer?


I have no children to educate and would prefer to keep my money in my local public school that is accountable to me through elections, board meetings, state regulations and transparent data reporting. This helps my community in terms of cohesiveness, accountability, local jobs, and property values.


If we go to vouchers, I would rather keep my education tax money and educate myself on vacation habits of the elderly.

Kyle_Wingfield
Kyle_Wingfield moderator

@AvgGeorgian "I have no children to educate and would prefer to keep my money in my local public school that is accountable to me through elections, board meetings, state regulations and transparent data reporting. This helps my community in terms of cohesiveness, accountability, local jobs, and property values."

And how about communities where that model doesn't work out so well? Tough luck for them, huh? 

As for this: "unregulated, do not provide performance data, and not accountable to the taxpayer"

It's a total exaggeration of what I'm saying. If you read to the end, you saw that I think parents should know exactly how their students are performing and how that compares. Regarding accountability to taxpayers, when do the public schools start with that? In a state with dozens of schools that have been failing for three or more years in a row, with dozens more that have failed 1-2 years, is anyone being held accountable to the taxpayers? The new Opportunity School District will be the first such measure that I can think of, and it'll only affect 100 schools at a time. 

AvgGeorgian
AvgGeorgian

@Kyle_Wingfield @AvgGeorgian


The local public schools are held accountable for instruction - not learning.

I rarely if ever hear of a child without disabilities who goes to school, listens in class, does the homework, studies for tests and takes advantage of after school tutoring, who fails to score well on tests or graduate from HS. 

The problem of "failing schools" is a larger % of failing students. 

The OSD can't seem to lay out it's plan for something different.

Dusty2
Dusty2

Kyle,


When I reply to a comment here directly below it, why does it appear elsewhere several comments away?

Kyle_Wingfield
Kyle_Wingfield moderator

@Dusty2 It depends on which comment you're replying to. If you reply to one that's already been replied to, it will appear below that one ... and any responses to that one.

dcdcdc
dcdcdc

The Dem party was on the wrong side of three awful ideas that tragically damaged the black community - Slavery, and Sharecropping, and Jim Crow laws - all fully supported by that party.  


Let's hope they don't continue to make another mistake - forcing poor blacks to be stuck in their local failing school, rather than supporting the efforts of those who want to better themselves via education.


History says doubtful, unfortunately, as the Public School teacher's unions are such a key part of their funding and get out the vote operation.  Sadly, the black child will continue to pay the price - as the Dem party has their mom's votes locked up, so doesn't actually have to deliver for the kids.

Hedley_Lammar
Hedley_Lammar

@dcdcdc The Dem party was on the wrong side of three awful ideas that tragically damaged the black community - Slavery, and Sharecropping, and Jim Crow laws - all fully supported by that party.  


Those were all Southern Conservatives. Not exactly the Democrat of today. 


We hear this argument over and overt and it falls flat every time. 

dcdcdc
dcdcdc

@Hedley_Lammar @dcdcdc ..except it is being repeated again by todays Dems, who are locking poor black and other minority youths into failing schools.


But keep telling yourself its those evil cons who are destroying oppty for these kids - as you and your party side with your teachers union supporters against them.


Hypocrites, as usual.