Sponsor Chat: School Choice & School Improvement: What have we learned?
Tuesday, November 17, 2 p.m. Eastern time
Education Week served only as the host for this presentation. The content was created by the sponsor, Vanderbilt University's National Center on School Choice. The opinions expressed in this chat are those of the sponsor and do not reflect the opinion of or constitute an endorsement by Editorial Projects in Education or any of its publications.
A continuation of the conversation about school choice and school improvement begun at Vanderbilt University’s recent National Center on School Choice Conference. We delved deeper into the effectiveness of vouchers and scholarships, parent choice, urban district choice, the competition effects of choice, and choice in international contexts, and other topics.
Papers, presentations, and video segments of the National Center on School Choice and School Improvement Conference are available on the conference Web site.
Guests: David Figlio, the Orrington Lunt Professor of Education, Social Policy and Economics at Northwestern University and Research Associate at the National Bureau of Economic Research
Helen F. Ladd, the Edgar Thompson Professor of Public Policy Studies and Professor of Economics at Duke University
Kristie J. R. Phillips, Assistant Professor of Sociology at Brigham Young University
Marisa Cannata, Associate Director, National Center on School Choice, Vanderbilt University, will moderate this chat.
Note: No special equipment other than Internet access is needed to participate in any of our text-based chats.
School Choice & School Improvement: What have we learned?
Today's chat, "School Choice & School Improvement: What have we learned?," sponsored by Vanderbilt University's National Center on School Choice, is open for questions. Please start submitting them now.
The chat will begin at 2 p.m. Eastern time. Thank you for joining us.
Tuesday November 17, 2009 10:34 Edweek Producer: Jennifer
Hello this is Helen. I am now online
Tuesday November 17, 2009 2:01 Helen Ladd
Welcome to the online discussion on School Choice and School Improvement.
Tuesday November 17, 2009 2:01 MarisaCannata
I hope we can have a rich discussion of many issues related to school choice. First, I would like to give our panelists an opportunity to introduce themselves.
Tuesday November 17, 2009 2:02 MarisaCannata
Hello, I'm Kristie Phillips from the Department of Sociology at Brigham Young University.
Tuesday November 17, 2009 2:03 Kristie
Hello. I am Helen Ladd from the Sanford School at Duke University.
Tuesday November 17, 2009 2:04 Helen Ladd
Welcome, Helen and Kristie. A few weeks ago, the National Center on School Choice hosted a conference about research on school choice. What do you think are the main points raised at the conference?
Tuesday November 17, 2009 2:07 MarisaCannata
Hi, I'm David Figlio, online.
Tuesday November 17, 2009 2:07 davidfiglio
One point is that the details of choice programs differ across areas so it;s hard to generalize about choice programs.
Tuesday November 17, 2009 2:08 Helen Ladd
As was implied in the title of the conference, I think one of the most imporat issues is that school choice is contextualized and must be considered within the context it takes place.
Tuesday November 17, 2009 2:08 Kristie
I also think that school choice was highlighed as a very complex issue.
Tuesday November 17, 2009 2:10 Kristie
Choice programs are multidimensional and varied, and it's difficult to take a "one size fits all" approach to either choice programs or their analysis.
Tuesday November 17, 2009 2:10 davidfiglio
There's a lot of very interesting work going on in this field.
Tuesday November 17, 2009 2:11 Helen Ladd
We received multiple questions about the role of socio-economic status and whether or not parents make a choice in where their child goes to school.
For example, one participant asks, We know that the main external influence on student success is the socio-economic situation of the parents. Is there research showing that there are relationships between SES and a propensity to make use of choice? Are upper class parents more active in making use of opportunities? Is there any data showing a divide on the basis of SES or other indicators?
Tuesday November 17, 2009 2:12 MarisaCannata
Some of the early research work on vouchers came from Milwaukee but now there are so many types of choice in that city that it is hard to sort out what is going on with any one choice program.
Tuesday November 17, 2009 2:12 Helen Ladd
It's hard to say for certain whether high SES versus low SES families make more use of choice. In my study of participation in Florida's corporate tax credit scholarship program, I've found that it's the relatively disadvantaged families that are most likely to elect to go to a private school.
Tuesday November 17, 2009 2:14 davidfiglio
But that is a program in which families must have incomes below 185 percent of the poverty line to participate.
Tuesday November 17, 2009 2:14 davidfiglio
Nonetheless, that study shows that (at least in Florida) the private school-leavers tend to be people who are not succeeding in the public schools, to a good degree.
Tuesday November 17, 2009 2:15 davidfiglio
At the conference Matt Steinberg reported on an interesting study of who chooses in Chicago. One interesting finding was that many students who applied to hight schools did not get in, perhaps because they did not apply to enough of them or simply did not fully understand how to work the system.
Tuesday November 17, 2009 2:15 Helen Ladd
Again, this finding is context specific: my research shows that higher SES parents are slightly more likely to exercise choice (in the form of intra-district transfers). However, the most interesting issue I found was that higher and lower SES parents were likely to make very different choices.
Tuesday November 17, 2009 2:15 Kristie
My student Umut Ozek found similar findings to Kristie's in terms of inter-district transfers in a Florida context.
Tuesday November 17, 2009 2:17 davidfiglio
[Comment From Leonie Haimson in New YorLeonie Haimson in New Yor: ]
What is the evidence that increasing school choice and/or competition has led to improved and more equitable outcomes for kids? Doesn’t unfettered competition in other realms without a strong government hand often lead to more inequitable conditions, with winners and losers?
Tuesday November 17, 2009 2:17 Leonie Haimson in New Yor
Kristie, can you provide more detail about how higher and lower SES parents were making different choices?
Tuesday November 17, 2009 2:18 MarisaCannata
Higher SES parents tended to choose schools that were slightly "better" (in terms of test scores) than the schools they left. Lower SES parents also tended to choose schools that were slightly "better" thatn the schools they left. However, after these choices were made, higher SES parents chose the highest performing schools in the district, and lower SES parents chose schools that were average in terms of academic performance.
Tuesday November 17, 2009 2:20 Kristie
In my work inother countries -- e.g. New Zealand and the Netherlands, -- I find that more advantaged families typically benefit more from choice programs. But once again the details matter. If the choice program is limited to low income families, the results would differ. .
Tuesday November 17, 2009 2:20 Helen Ladd
[Comment From Matthew SteinbergMatthew Steinberg: ]
Much of the work on choice centers around the effect on student achievement. Parents (and decision makers at the family level) may be choosing to opt out of schools and/or into alternative choice options based on aspects of the choice set not fully considered when focused solely on academic outcomes. These may include issues of safe environments for learning, for example. How might future research go about assessing the extent to which a broadened choice set may enter into the choice decision?
Tuesday November 17, 2009 2:21 Matthew Steinberg
I also found that when student who were zoned to lower performing school chose to attend a higher performing school, this choice predicted significant increases in achievement. However only about 15% of choosers made this choice--so, it basically influenced only 2.5% of the district.
Tuesday November 17, 2009 2:22 Kristie
Leonie: My read of the evidence about the global effects of choice is that there is no "silver bullet." My early work on Florida suggests that public school students benefit when private school choice is offered, but this is an average effect, and importantly, it's the effect of a choice program AIMED exclusively at low income families. It's also possible that some choosers might go to better schools and some might go to worse schools.
Tuesday November 17, 2009 2:23 davidfiglio
My research on charter schools in North Carolina indicates that African Americans are overrepresented in the state's charter schools, and that many of them are choosing schools with very low average levels of student achievement.
Tuesday November 17, 2009 2:24 Helen Ladd
Matthew: I think you raise an important issue about examining outcomes other than achievement. One study presented at the conference (Stein, Goldring, & Cravens) suggested that parents generally list academic preferences as their most important reasons for choice. However, their study also suggests that when parents talk about their academic preferences, they may or may not include things like test scores, etc.
Tuesday November 17, 2009 2:26 Kristie
[Comment From Cathy Thomley in TennesseCathy Thomley in Tennesse: ]
Has concerns about potential segregating effects of voucher systems. Few choice plans include transportation for students and her county is not required to provide transportation. This means that parents who can’t afford to transport their children outside of their neighborhood have no choice and/or may be prevented from participating in other extra-curricular activities. There is also the concern that private schools could raise tuition over the voucher amount to still get a selective student population.
What measures are in place to address these issues? Or, are they really issues at all?
Tuesday November 17, 2009 2:27 Cathy Thomley in Tennesse
In my focus groups and interviews with parents, they tend to focus on academic factors, but often talk about a wider variety of these factors. and school climate is a major determinant of choice for many families.
Tuesday November 17, 2009 2:28 davidfiglio
Cathy. The issues you raise are very important. Choice isn't real choice is families cannot take advantage of it.
Tuesday November 17, 2009 2:29 Helen Ladd
To follow up on my earlier response to Cathy, other things matter as well. In the Netherlands (where no child is assigned a school so there is full parental choice), some parents are in a much better position to make good choices than others. Many middle class parents start signing their children up for schools well before other parents. By the time the other parents start thinking about it, there are no spots left in the top schools.
Tuesday November 17, 2009 2:32 Helen Ladd
We received several questions about competition and the effect of school choice on traditional public schools and districts. For example, here is a question from Ashley.
Tuesday November 17, 2009 2:34 MarisaCannata
[Comment From AshleyAshley: ]
In what ways would you say public schools benefit when students choose private/charter options?
Tuesday November 17, 2009 2:34 Ashley
Cathy: In Florida, private schools can charge tuitions and fees above the amount of the scholarship. It turns out that many people who choose are relatively low-income families. But we don't have a very good sense yet of whether very poor families are making worse "choices" (I put chocies in quotes because I agree with Sunny Ladd's concern at 2:32) than more affluent families, and why that is.
Tuesday November 17, 2009 2:34 davidfiglio
[Comment From Mimi DavisMimi Davis: ]
How does home education fit into the school choice debate?
Tuesday November 17, 2009 2:37 Mimi Davis
Ashley: public schools can benefit in a number of ways. (1) if those choosing are the most mismatched students, these students might have been disruptive in the public school setting; (2) if only a small number of students leave a school, the public school may have smaller class sizes (and not face the financial effects that the district as a whole faces); (3) public schools might work differently as a consequence of the increased competition. All of these are open questions that I and others are concerned with.
Tuesday November 17, 2009 2:37 davidfiglio
My reading of the evidence of how competition from private or charter schools affect the traditional public schools is that any positive effects are small at best. David may want to weigh in as well.
Tuesday November 17, 2009 2:37 Helen Ladd
My read is that the effects tend to be small too. And most of the papers written on the subject have major "selection" problems (that is, there's a reason why a public school might have more private competitors.)
Tuesday November 17, 2009 2:39 davidfiglio
(or public competitors, for that matter.)
Tuesday November 17, 2009 2:39 davidfiglio
My sense is that one of the best reasons for providing more choice to parents (especially low-income parents who do not have the luxury of moving to a neighborhood with a better school or to sending their child to a private school) is that one size does not fit all children. Note tthat hat argument is an educational argument and one not based on the economist's notion of the benefits of competition.
Tuesday November 17, 2009 2:42 Helen Ladd
[Comment From Ibrahim DuyarIbrahim Duyar: ]
Would the participants speak about the recent debate between Hoxby study and CREDO study. I particularly would like to hear comments to the following questions:
1. What do the participants think claims by Hoxby and Reardon on each other's methodological "mistakes?"
2. Why would the same group of researchers consistently find always negative or positive effects of charter schools? (For instance, why authors such as Ladd and Miron consistently find negative effects of charters? Similarly, why Hoxby would find positive effects of charter schools?)
3. These conflicting findings by the research community do not offer any help to policymaker, practitioners, and the public at large even though this may be the natural process to unveil the complex educational phenomenon from the research point of view. What would the participants suggest to the consumers of research on research community's inability to offer clear answers on charter schools?
Tuesday November 17, 2009 2:43 Ibrahim Duyar
I agree with Sunny Ladd at 2:42. Even if there are competitive effects of increased choice, a likely more salient argument is that affluent families have more ability than poorer families to sort into the schools that are best for their kids.
Tuesday November 17, 2009 2:45 davidfiglio
Ibrahim. I will start since you refer to my work. I do indeed find negative average effects of charter schools in North Carolina, but I would not be surprised if the average effects of charter schools were positive in another setting such as New York. Remember that charter school laws and policies differ from one state to another....
Tuesday November 17, 2009 2:46 Helen Ladd
My understanding of the current charter school debates (and really the debates in the school choice literature in general) is that different findings emerge due to three factors: (1) differences in contexts, (2) differences in methods, and (3) differences in measures. Since most of school choice studies (including the charter school studies referenced) differ quite a bit across each of these issues, it's not surprising that researchers come to different conclusions.
Tuesday November 17, 2009 2:47 Kristie
More for Ibrahim. It's important to pay attention to the question the researcher is asking. One question refers to the average effects of all the charter schools in a state, some of which are likely to be strong and others weak. Another question refers to outcomes for students in oversubscribed charter schools. The different questions will often generate different answers.
Tuesday November 17, 2009 2:49 Helen Ladd
Absolutely. And it's not entirely obvious which one of these questions is the most interesting. Both have merit, and both have generalizability issues.
Tuesday November 17, 2009 2:50 davidfiglio
[Comment From Kit Lively Kit Lively : ]
There are a lot of conflicting studies about school choice. What advice would you give for a state or local policymaker trying to decide what to do? Do we know what makes for a “good” charter school?
Tuesday November 17, 2009 2:51 Kit Lively
Kit. A good charter school for whom? For middle class kids? For disadvantaged kids who have a lot of support from family at home?
Tuesday November 17, 2009 2:54 Helen Ladd
[Comment From Dr. Michelle Ungurait in Dr. Michelle Ungurait in : ]
What indications do we have from the Obama administration regarding the role of magnet schools as a viable public school choice? Are magnet schools still a relevant public choice option in today’s blurring of racial and ethnic self declarations of students and parents?
Tuesday November 17, 2009 2:55 Dr. Michelle Ungurait in
Kit, I'll take the first question. I think that the evidence suggests that school choice is unlikely to be nearly as revolutionary as advocates would hope or nearly as damaging as detractors might claim. So one should have reasonable expectations. Set up programs based on goals such as providing better fits for students, provide opportunities for transparent analysis of data by independent third parties, and work to identify shortcomings in the program and to try to remediate them.
Tuesday November 17, 2009 2:57 davidfiglio
We received several more questions about how parents are making choices. What do we know about the non-academic characteristics parents care about? Does it change based on the student's age? What types of resources/information are available to parents when making choices? How can we provide a more level playing ground for parents to make choices?
Tuesday November 17, 2009 2:58 MarisaCannata
More for Kit. My advice to policy makers is not to expect that governance changes alone (e.g. parental choice, small schools, autonomous schools) will lead to good outcomes. To promote success, we need to make sure kids come to school ready to learn, that there are good pirncipals and strong teachers, and a supportive environment.
Tuesday November 17, 2009 2:58 Helen Ladd
My sense is that Cambridge Mass. does a pretty good job of providing information to parents as part of its controlled choice program -- lots of information centers, with information in multiple languages.
Tuesday November 17, 2009 3:01 Helen Ladd
In terms of how we can provide a more level playing ground for parents to make choices, access to transportation and information are usually important. Furthermore, the information must be readable (in parents' spoken language) and interpretable (parents know what the information means).
Tuesday November 17, 2009 3:02 Kristie
More on how parents make choices. My research in the U.S. and other countries suggest that many parents make choices based on the racial/ethnic or socio econonic mix of the students in the school. They may not admit that in interviews but their behaviour suggests that they do.
Tuesday November 17, 2009 3:04 Helen Ladd
School choice cannot be the only intervention. We need to make sure that a child comes to school ready to learn and that there are enrichment opportunities that are appropriate and available.
Tuesday November 17, 2009 3:04 davidfiglio
Agreed. Sometimes I think we expect too much from school choice.
Tuesday November 17, 2009 3:04 Kristie
Unfortunately that is all the time we have. Thank you to our panelists and to all the participants who asked many great questions.
If you would like more information on the National Center on School Choice's recent conference, you can download the papers and view video from the presentations at our website: www.vanderbilt.edu/schoolchoice/conference
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