To the Editor:
While Delaware Gov. Jack Markell’s support for more choice among public schools has been positive, his Commentary “School Choice Works, Privatization Won’t” is short-sighted and disappointing.
He overlooks the vital role of parents in holding schools directly accountable. School choice programs cultivate localized, parent-driven accountability. The “exit” option is a powerful signal allowing parents to hold accountable private schools and public charter schools. A warning of student departure provides a strong incentive for a school to meet and satisfy parents’ priorities.
Mr. Markell misunderstands what we know about school choice programs. More than 30 empirical studies examining program impacts on either participating students or on their public school peers have consistently found statistically significant positive results. Observations include higher achievement for some or all student groups. Some effects are more modest than others. But the effects on high school graduation rates and college enrollment may be the most promising.
Contrary to Gov. Markell’s argument that voucher systems divert millions of taxpayer dollars, my colleague Jeff Spalding has produced a rigorous fiscal analysis of 10 mature school voucher programs.
Published by the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice, the study showed that, on average, the programs saved taxpayers more than $3,000 per voucher student per year.
The governor implies that vouchers and education savings accounts, or ESAs, do not serve poor or minority students. However, school choice laws and programs are intentionally designed so those students are, in fact, a public priority. Disadvantaged students are the most likely to be eligible for, participate in, and benefit from choice programs.
I encourage readers to research the design of these programs, which have been enacted in 26 states and not just “several states,” as Mr. Markell writes.
Last fall, I reported results from a representative survey of Delaware voters, which found that they are much more likely to favor ESAs than to oppose such a policy (59 percent favor versus 32 percent oppose). Support is even higher for vouchers (70 percent favor versus 26 percent oppose).
Will the governor listen to his constituents?
Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice
A version of this article appeared in the May 20, 2015 edition of Education Week as Governor’s School Choice Essay Ignores Research, Critic Says