Opinion: National experiment in school choice, market solutions produces inequity

An educational researcher once expressed skepticism to me that successful practices at one school could influence what occurs at a school down the road. ???????????????????The problem, he told me, is that education tends to be insular and best practices in one classroom seldom influence what occurs in the classroom next door, never mind classrooms miles away.

The price of our unwillingness to learn from the successes and mistakes of others?

Repeat failures. And it occurs on a broader scale as well.

For example, Georgia keeps looking to unproven practices to jump start its schools when Massachusetts offers a proven blueprint. That northeastern state leads the nation in academic performance and has done so by  investing in preschool and teacher quality, raising rigor and adopting and sticking to whole school reform plans.

Yet, Gov. Nathan Deal escorts a contingent of lawmakers to New Orleans to study school reform. The performance of low-income students in Louisiana remains far below what Massachusetts — and Gwinnett County for that matter — is achieving.

Why didn’t the governor go to Boston or Norcross if he wanted to see successful practices in action?

The United States also resists looking to other countries to learn what’s worked and what hasn’t.

The knee-jerk reaction to any international comparison is always the same: This is America and things are different here.  We dismiss Finland’s success with the flip statement that Finland’s secret is a country full of Finns, disregarding that nation’s comprehensive campaign to raise teacher quality.

We refuse to learn not only from successful reforms in other nations, but from failed ones, too.

In this essay, two education researchers focus on what we could learn from the country of Chile and its experimentation with market-based approaches to education.

The authors are Alfredo Gaete of Pontificia Universidad Catolica de Chile and Stephanie Jones of the University of Georgia.

By Alfredo Gaete and Stephanie Jones

Imagine a country that was once committed to quality public education, but began to treat that public good like a market economy with the introduction of charter schools and voucher systems.

Imagine that after a few years, most students in this country attended private schools and there was public funding for most of such schools, which must compete for that funding by improving their results. Imagine the state fostered this competition by publishing school rankings, so parents were informed of the results obtained by each institution.

Imagine, finally, that school owners were allowed to charge extra fees to parents, thereby rendering education a quite profitable business.

But let’s stop imagining, because this country already exists.

After a series of policies implemented from the 1980s onward, Chilean governments have managed to develop one of the most deregulated, market-oriented educational schemes in the world.

Inspired by the ideas of such neoliberal economists as Hayek and Friedman, the “Chilean experiment” was meant to prove that education can achieve its highest quality when its administration is handed over mainly to the private sector and, therefore, to the forces of the market.

How did they do this?

Basically by creating charter schools with a voucher system and a number of mechanisms for ensuring both the competition among them and the profitability of their business. In this scenario, the state has a subsidiary but still important role, namely, to introduce national standards and assess schools by virtue of them (in such a way that national rankings can be produced).

This accountability job, along with the provision of funding, is almost everything that was left to the Chilean state regarding education, in the hope that competition, marketing, and the like would lead the country to develop the best possible educational system.

So what happened? Here are some facts after about three decades of the “Chilean experiment” that, chillingly, has also been called the “Chilean Miracle” like the more recent U.S. “New Orleans Miracle.”

  • First, there is no clear evidence that students have significantly improved their performance on standardized tests, the preferred measurement used to assess schools within this scenario of the free market.
  • Second, there is now consensus among researchers that both the educational and the socioeconomic gaps have been increased. Chile is now a far more unequal society than it was before the privatization of education – and there is a clear correlation between family income and student achievement according to standardized testing and similar measures.
  • Third, studies have shown that schools serving the more underprivileged students have greater difficulties not only for responding competitively but also for innovating and improving school attractiveness in a way to acquire students and therefore funding.
  • Fourth, many schools are now investing more in marketing strategies than in actually improving their services.
  • Fifth, the accountability culture required by the market has yielded a teach-to-the-test schema that is progressively neglecting the variety and richness of more integral educational practices.
  • Sixth, some researchers believe that all this has negatively affected teachers’ professional autonomy, which in turn has triggered feelings of demoralization, anxiety, and in the end poor teaching practices inside schools and an unattractive profession from the outside.
  • Seventh, a general sense of frustration and dissatisfaction has arisen not only among school communities but actually in the great majority of the population. Indeed, the ‘Penguins Revolution’ – a secondary students’ revolt driven by complaints about the quality and equity of Chilean education – led to the most massive social protest movement in the country during the last 20 years.

So even though there still are advocates of the private model of education, especially among those who have profited from it, an immense majority of the Chilean society is now urging the government for radical, deep reforms in the educational system of the country.

Very recently, in fact, an announcement was made that public university would be free for students, paid for by a 24 percent tax on corporations.

The ‘Chilean Miracle’ – like the ‘New Orleans Miracle’ – it seems, is not a miracle of student growth, achievement, equity, and high quality education for all. Rather, it is a miracle that a once protected public good was finally exploited as a competitive private market where profit-seeking corporations could receive a greater and greater share of public tax dollars.

It is also a miracle that such profit-seeking private companies and corporations, including publishing giants that produce educational materials and tests, have managed to keep the target of accountability on teachers and schools and not on their own backs.

Their treasure trove of funding – state and federal tax monies – continues to flow even as their materials, technological innovations, products, services, and tests fail to provide positive results.

So we don’t have to guess what the result will be of the current “U.S. experiment” with competition-infused education reform that includes school choice, charter schools, charter systems, voucher systems, state-funded education savings accounts for families, tax credits for “donations” to private schools, state takeover school districts, merit pay, value-added models for teacher evaluation, Common Core national standards, PARCC and Smarter Balanced national tests, edTPA national teacher education evaluations, and federal “rewards” such as Race to the Top for states that come aboard.

Indeed, Chilean education reform from the 1980s to the present provides the writing on the wall, so to speak, for the United States and we should take heed. Chile is now engaged in what will be a long struggle to dig its way out of the educational disaster created by failed experimentation and falsely produced miracles.

The United States still has time to reverse course, to turn away from the scary language of crisis and the seductive language of choice and accountability used in educational reform, and turn toward a fully funded and protected public education for our nation.

 

 

 

 

Reader Comments 0

56 comments
coj
coj

The system of privatizing schools and vouchers just don't make our educational system better except for those banking on tax dollars for the shareholders of private schools. 

Happy Hippie
Happy Hippie

My son is currently enrolled in a charter school that is being closed at the end of this year. It is actually an excellent school and we are very unhappy that we will have to send him back to our local public school, where  my son was threatened and made fun of because he loves school and actually wants to learn. The school lost its charter because of a lack of transparency and improper use of public funds. In other words, there was some really shady stuff going on. Yet the group who started this school have a nation-wide record of starting charter schools, running them for the first years of the initial charter, then switching to profitable private schools when they inevitably lose their charter due to shady finances. They have created a very profitable model of getting public tax dollars to fund the start-up of their private schools.


So I am very torn on this issue because I love the idea of charter schools, and my son has absolutely thrived in his charter school. But it is so easy to abuse the system. There are only two elementary charter schools in our area, and one is being shut down. That track record doesn't bode well for implementing this type of school choice on a larger scale.  With education dollars so limited, does it make sense to divvy them up even more? Or would it make more sense to look at what successful schools (charter, public and private) in our own community are doing to succeed?


Also, one thing I haven't really seen addressed in the idea of the funding following the student, even if they go to private schools, is the issue of religion. Many private schools are religious. They teach religious doctrine and require students to attend chapel. Wouldn't public tax dollars following a student to one of these schools mean that tax dollars would be used for religious instruction?

class80olddog
class80olddog

@Happy Hippie  "Wouldn't public tax dollars following a student to one of these schools mean that tax dollars would be used for religious instruction? "


So?  Using tax dollars to support religious instruction (that the parents want) is a far cry from "making a law respecting an establishment of religion".

Happy Hippie
Happy Hippie

@class80olddog @Happy Hippie 

While parents may certainly choose to send their children to a religious school, no taxpayer should be forced to fund religious indoctrination. Additionally, in most private religious schools, worship at chapel is mandatory.

As Thomas Jefferson stated in The Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom, “To compel a man to furnish contributions of money for the propagation of opinions which he disbelieves is sinful and tyrannical.”  AND “no man shall be compelled to frequent or support any religious worship, place, or ministry whatsoever.”

Starik
Starik

@class80olddog @Happy Hippie If the State subsidizes religious schools it is establishing religion - it's just like tax exemptions for the likes of Creflo Dollar and the other prosperity preachers. Put your hand on the radio and your paycheck in my pocket!  God will reward you!

MaryElizabethSings
MaryElizabethSings

@Happy Hippie


Let's highlight this part of your long post for the public's knowledge:


"The school lost its charter because of a lack of transparency and improper use of public funds. In other words, there was some really shady stuff going on. Yet the group who started this school have a nation-wide record of starting charter schools, running them for the first years of the initial charter, then switching to profitable private schools when they inevitably lose their charter due to shady finances. They have created a very profitable model of getting public tax dollars to fund the start-up of their private schools."

GraceD
GraceD

Excellent article! Please do not support this bill!!!

Lee_CPA2
Lee_CPA2

"{Massachusetts] leads the nation in academic performance and has done so by investing in preschool and teacher quality, raising rigor and adopting and sticking to whole school reform plans."

Let's see;

Preschool.  Check.

Teacher quality.  Check, provided, of course, that having diploma mill doctorates equates to teacher quality.

Raising rigor.  Catch phrase that means nothing.

Whole school reform. Whatever that means.

You want to know the difference between Mass and GA?   Look at the demographics of each and apply the racial IQ hierarchy.  Same with Finland.  Tell you what.  Stratify by race and socioeconomics and then compare state to state.  I would wager there is not much of a difference between any of the states.  But, it is big business for the education industrial complex to continue to raise false issues such as "inequity".

BTW, the college schools of education are part of that complex.

MaryElizabethSings
MaryElizabethSings

@Lee_CPA2 


Part of my post, from below, refutes your words, "Look at the demographics of each and apply the racial IQ hierarchy," which, imo, is too simple a way to perceive racial variances within education.


To wit: "There is more to making sound judgments than analyzing one-dimensional "facts," of the moment. When we reach for a fuller understanding, we know that there will be more to every person's story than facts, alone.


Part of this deeper understanding, which transcends harsh judgment of ourselves and of others, springs from realizing that historical and personal forces, to which we are all subjected, but subjected differently, will affect each life differently. Psychological background is part of the reason for these variances as well as biological (not racial) differences, which many are just coming to understand. (Most homeless people are mentally ill, for example.)  We must try to see these various historical and psychological forces upon the lives of our fellow human beings, as well as upon ourselves, with compassion and insight, which I believe education of the highest order can provide, but, not education of a profit-based nature, which will have a different focus than enlightenment."

Already_Older
Already_Older

FYI... my wife has her undergraduate degree, masters degree, and specialists degree, in addition to being incredibly talented and dedicated.  I don't think that MA has more qualified teachers than my wife.  Quit blaming the teachers and put the responsibility back on the parents.

Already_Older
Already_Older

Representing the views of my wife, who is a very dedicated public middle school teacher, the only reforms that will work are those that force the parents to care.  I normally agree with Maureen, but not so much this time.  I don't know any specifics of the Mass. plan, but in general, I don't think you can compare rural GA to MASS.  Looking at the median income, MASS ranks #2 while GA ranks #40.  For a family of 4 in MASS, the median income is $106,812, 157% of GA's.  The MASS Child Poverty Rate is 16.3% while GA's is 26.5%, a 63% increase.  Not saying that being richer makes you smarter, but it doesn't have to do with intelligence; it has to do with motivation.  Generally (definitely not ALL), a parent who is a higher income worker emphasize school more than someone who is unemployed.  

Not saying we shouldn't look as the MASS plan, but don't compare apples with oranges.  If you tell me that AL or SC has a great plan, then I would say that should definitely be considered here.

It is my understanding that this plan is talking about continually failing schools.  In that case, I am open to trying to see if the state can succeed where the local system couldn't.  Since I still believe it comes down to parental involvement, I don't see where it can truly help, but I am not sure it can hurt either.  Perhaps at least tie the parent's social benefits to their kid's attendance if not true performance.

redweather
redweather

@Getting_Older Most of the conservative regulars here seek to minimize the importance of poverty when it comes to student performance.  But you seem to be saying that because public school children in Mass. are, generally speaking, somewhat more affluent than Georgia's children that what they're doing in Mass can't help us here?

class80olddog
class80olddog

@redweather @Getting_Older  I will accept the mantle of a "conservative poster" on here because my views on education lean that way, even though I am truly a Moderate, and am decidedly liberal on certain issues.


Minimize poverty?  No, we only say that poverty and bad educational outcomes are correlated, but we all know that correlation does not prove causation.  Being poor does not cause you to have bad educational outcomes - I am living proof of that.  What we have been trying to get across is that it is the CAUSES of poverty that cause bad educational outcomes.  If a person is "poor" because they have decided to be a single bread-winner family (with stay-at-home mom) and have a lot of kids, but care about their education and the mom is involved and read to the kids every night and provide homework help and ensure their kids attend school - these kids will have good educational outcomes, despite their "poverty".


On the other hand, if the poverty is caused by a teenage mom with no father present, who doesn't care about her children's education - these kids will have poor educational outcomes.


Do you understand this, redweather?

dcdcdc
dcdcdc

Instead, much better to continue our current strategy of "same old same old, for even more and more money".  Since it's delivered "equal results" for tens of millions of poor kids.  Who are now in jail, on welfare, and can't read, write, and have no idea how to act in a work environment.


But not a problem...because the important thing is they are "equally incompetent".  Thanks to the eduacracy, who has proven to be equally mediocre....well, at everything except enriching themselves.

dcdcdc
dcdcdc

Can't have inequality. Everyone must stay equally in mediocrity instead.


Thank goodness this thinking didn't hold earlier in our country - as a so called "unequal" economy lifted hundreds of millions out of poverty.  And of course, in China, everyone was equally miserably poor....until the past 20 years, when suddenly "inequality" wasn't punished with death and jail, but rather celebrated, as millions innovated through hard work and helped lift over a billion people out of "equal misery and poverty".


But can't have "inequality".  Much better to follow Castro's model in Cuba, where everyone is equal...ly miserable.

redweather
redweather

It needs to be said again and again.  This latest reform is all about rewarding campaign contributors.  It's "trickle-down" reform.

bu2
bu2

@redweather 


Because if you tell a lie enough times people will begin to believe it?


Sorry, couldn't resist.


Has it occurred to you they might believe they can do a better job than these districts that get on probation?

dcdcdc
dcdcdc

@bu2 @redweather Impossible, bu2.  In the minds of libs, anyone who disagrees with them is evil, and out to "harm the children" for "evil profit".  They don't seem capable of understanding that it's possible that they (the libs) might actually be wrong.  Or that it's legitimate to have an opinion different from them.


And then. when their ideas are actually exposed as frauds and failures, they immediately move into personal attack and character assignation.  After all, since "they care", anyone who opposes them is obviously an evil person with illegitimate ideas........


Someone once posted a "playbook on how libs argue".  It was hilarious, sad, sick, and predictable (without fail) all wrapped into one.

class80olddog
class80olddog

@BearCasey @dcdcdc @bu2 @redweather "I don't know if this is in the playbook, dc, but how do you explain the millions upon millions of Americans who have been properly educated in public schools? "


Caring parents. (note plural)

BearCasey
BearCasey

@dcdcdc @bu2 @redweather  I don't know if this is in the playbook, dc, but how do you explain the millions upon millions of Americans who have been properly educated in public schools?  Random chance?  Divine intervention?  Extra-terrestrial experiments?  Something else?

LogicalDude
LogicalDude

Great research and summary.  It sounds like the Chilean experiment rewards schools in good areas while leaving schools in poor areas behind.  This is the continuous struggle.  


On Kyle's blog, he mentions in the comments differences between different counties versus Gwinnett which some claim cause differences in success. "It's a cultural thing" theme. 

So far, minority population is not a significant factor. 

Money per student is not a significant factor. 

Being Economically disadvantaged looks like a significant factor. 


The question should become "how do we improve all schools in economically disadvantaged areas?"   More money alone is not the answer.  It can help when you have more qualified teachers working with the students.  It can help get good technology and supplies in the classroom. It can help keep schools up to date and in good condition.  But money will not get kids to learn in and of itself. It takes more. 

It takes the expectation from the top (School district executives, principals, and legislators) is for each student to graduate (without monetary incentives to pass a particular test).  It can help when school systems and teachers work directly with parents to spur their children to success.  

Putting incentives on profit may help some areas, but what can they do in the classroom that non-profit schools do differently? 


class80olddog
class80olddog

@LogicalDude " It can help when school systems and teachers work directly with parents to spur their children to success."


Parents?  You are using the plural when in a lot of cases with failing schools, it should be the singular.

EdUktr
EdUktr

@class80olddog @LogicalDude

Yes, it would be informative to compare Gwinnett's percentage of single-parent households with that of the Atlanta School District.

But I suspect that will only be done by some less partisan newspaper.

class80olddog
class80olddog

@LogicalDude " but what can they do in the classroom that non-profit schools do differently? "


Enforce discipline, enforce attendance, prohibit social promotion.

class80olddog
class80olddog

@LogicalDude  "Being Economically disadvantaged looks like a significant factor. "


So the solution is to write each family a check for $3000 each month, and the school results will go through the roof, right?


Do you REALLY believe that?  It is not the POVERTY, it is the decisions that lead to poverty.  My parents (note plural) were poor, never would accept food stamps or welfare, and cared and made sure us kids got a good education.

MaryElizabethSings
MaryElizabethSings

@class80olddog 


Your words, " My parents (note plural) were poor, never would accept food stamps or welfare, and cared and made sure us kids got a good education," indicate personal bias, imo.  This is why citizens need to be able to "walk a mile" in another's shoes in their minds, which I think excellent education will do to enlighten.

class80olddog
class80olddog

@MaryElizabethSings @class80olddog  "Walk a mile" in their shoes?  I am pregnant at 16 because I decided to have sex with my boyfriend and I didn't use birth control and he refused to wear a condom?  I refuse to embrace the power of education because my friends make fun of me for "acting too white"?  I am in poverty because I dropped out of school, now the only job I can get pays $7.25 and hour and I have three kids by three different men.  My kids are hungry because I used our food stamps to buy more expensive junky food or traded them for cash so I could buy cigarettes, booze, or drugs?  I chose to get hooked on drugs and now I have to steal to get money for drugs?


Yes, I can walk a long way in their $100 sneakers while their kids go hungry. 


P.S. - how is my relating the truthful experience of my childhood life indicating my personal bias?

class80olddog
class80olddog

@MaryElizabethSings @class80olddog  By the way, MaryElizabethSings, I have made some bad choices in my life and I accepted the consequences and have went on.  But I have never been in prison (never even had to pay a ticket).  I am quite sure I never fathered a child out of wedlock (too careful for that).  I have never abused drugs and I don't drink to excess and I would NEVER drive drunk. 


My kids (as far as I know) have never had an unintended pregnancy (or intended).  They have never gone to jail for drugs (or stealing).  Yes, I had to go pick up my son once at the police station when he was 16 - out too late and had alcohol on him.  I also repossessed his car when he did not follow the rules. 


I may not be perfect, but most of my decisions are good ones.

MaryElizabethSings
MaryElizabethSings

@LogicalDude 


Here is what needs to happen, as I posted in the last thread:


It seems to me that most of the programs of the Republican leaders in Georgia's legislature follow national Republican guidelines for their most newsworthy legislation, such as allowing the state to take over so-called failing schools.


I maintain that most of these programs are short-sighted and lack depth.  The Democratic plan for failing schools is much more substantive, imo, and, if followed, would have sustained improvement in these failing schools and their neighborhoods, over time.  That Democratic plan is to uplift the entire community in which the failing schools reside.  Their plan entails creating "community schools."  I have previously described the details of emotional and academic support provided through these "community schools."

MaryElizabethSings
MaryElizabethSings

@class80olddog


Enlightened understanding involves knowing that much more is involved in human evolution of consciousness than making "good choices."


Put another way, "Judge not, that you be not judged."

MaryElizabethSings
MaryElizabethSings

@class80olddog 


But, we, as a society, can do better than simple judgment, which enlightened education can provide.


Profit based education.  Free market education.  Limited education, imo.


For example, there is more to making sound judgments than analyzing one-dimensional "facts," of the moment. When we reach for a fuller understanding, we know that there will be more to every person's story than facts, alone.


Part of this deeper understanding, which transcends harsh judgment of ourselves and of others, springs from realizing that historical and personal forces, to which we are all subjected, but subjected differently, will affect each life differently. Psychological background is part of the reason for these variances as well as biological differences, which many are just coming to understand. (Most homeless people are mentally ill, for example.)  We must try to see these various historical and psychological forces upon the lives of our fellow human beings, as well as upon ourselves, with compassion and insight, which I believe education of the highest order can provide, but, not education of a profit-based nature, which will have a different focus than enlightenment.

Astropig
Astropig

Chile, Finland and Massachusetts are a LOT farther away than the next classroom.Their solutions or lack thereof are unique to their cultures,languages and values.They were allowed to develop their own solutions to their unique problems,so why can't we do that in Georgia? The Georgia of 2015 is not the state of 1967.We have access to better technology,more modern ideas and an economy that must compete with not just our region,but worldwide.Meanwhile, the schools have hardly progressed past the age when the state was run for the (almost) exclusive benefit of its agricultural sector.The schools themselves are full of dedicated people doing the best they can (for the most part),but the model is broken. I applaud the governor and the legislature for recognizing that fact and trying to drag the education systems into this new era.

popacorn
popacorn

@Astropig The agricultural sector may have diminished, but the fertilizer remains. 

Astropig
Astropig

@popacorn @Astropig


I meant to add (getting forgetful...) that school choice is not an "experiment",as implied in the title. It's a vibrant,ongoing policy that is empowering parents above educrats and helping break the cycle of poverty for families that are lucky enough to live in states where it is being tried.

Dismuke
Dismuke

@Astropig You say "why can't we do that in Georgia?"  Why are we looking to New Orleans if looking to Finland and Massachusetts is such a useless idea?  Once again, I'm failing to see logical consistency in an astropig comment.

sneakpeakintoeducation
sneakpeakintoeducation

@Astropig @popacorn


School choice is a failed experiment when it comes to ensuring that our children get a sound education. School choice has been shown to not increase educational outcomes for many of the students it purports to "save" but it does prove successful at putting money into the hands of the private sector with less accountability and transparency.


EdUktr
EdUktr

“Dollars should follow pupils, through a big expansion of voucher schemes or charter schools. In this way, good schools that attract more pupils will grow; bad ones will close or be taken over. Unions and their Democratic Party allies will howl, but experiments in cities such as battered New Orleans have shown that school choice works.”

—The Economist magazine, 1/24/15 http://tinyurl.com/o5xasle

The British wrestle with the same problems and lack of effective response by failing school systems. It is clearly time to think outside the box.

Wascatlady
Wascatlady

@EdUktr @MD3 AvgGeorgian SCHOOLED EdUktr yesterday on the efficacy of our Georgia teacher "unions."  See March 23 subject for the slap shot.

dg417s
dg417s

@EdUktr I agree - but the problem is when the dollars follow the student to the charter school and the student gets kicked out, they don't follow the child back to the traditional public school.  

bu2
bu2

@dg417s @EdUktr 

Yes they do unless they carefully arrange to kick out students right after each of the designated attendance days.

EdUktr
EdUktr

@MD3 @EdUktr

Readers can Google "NEA" and "contributions" to draw their own, very different conclusions regarding political payola.

MD3
MD3

@EdUktr But you're not thinking outside the box... You are thinking very much inside a box that has been proven, in practice, to be ineffective. So instead of maintaining the current status quo, AND instead of plunging toward ideas that are proven failures, why not actually empower teachers to design meaningful reforms that actually have a chance of working? Oh, that's right -- because teachers don't tend to be able to afford big campaign contributions. 

straker
straker

Maureen, these good things Georgia should do would cost a great deal of money.


Republicans would MUCH rather see that money go to their corporate sponsors in the form of perks and and tax breaks.