Opinion: School choice only works when paired with accountability

Jarod Apperson is a doctoral student in economics at Georgia State University and one of the best education data analysts in the state.

In this piece, Apperson responds to a recent column by school choice advocate Glenn Delk in support of education savings accounts.

By Jarod Apperson

Over the past 50 years, the expansion of educational choice has become a favorite rallying cry of politicians and other education advocates who view it as an avenue to greater educational opportunities for students.  In 1962, Milton Friedman, one of the earliest advocates for educational choice, laid out a rationale for moving away from the current system to an alternative system where the government played a less authoritative role in designing and implementing education.

Does Georgia need to expand school choice options for parents and kids? (AJC Photo)

Does school choice need to be paired with strong accountability? (AJC Photo)

From these beginnings, a number of ideas have emerged including an opinion recently presented on the Get Schooled blog that Georgia should move toward funding education through an education savings account, which would provide parents $8,000 annually to spend as they saw fit on the education of their children.  In many ways, I agree with the goals of those who advocate for additional choice; however, I strongly believe that Georgia will achieve better outcomes by pairing choice with accountability.

An often under-considered problem with education savings accounts and other voucher programs, at least as they are typically implemented, is the absence of oversight for the schools being funded by the public and the lack of accountability they have for accomplishing the public’s goals.

We have publicly funded education for a reason.  As a society, we believe that we are better off when children grow into constructive citizens and productive members of the economy.  We choose to subsidize the educational cost of students with the expectation of achieving this goal.

Not all of society’s goals are easily measured; however, some are.  For example, we know that students who develop stronger math and literacy skills as a result of having better teachers or learning in smaller classes eventually earn more money as adults, signaling that they have developed into more productive members of the economy.

While parental choice can sometimes lead to better outcomes, it may not always accomplish society’s goals.  Taken to the extreme, what if some parents want their children to become karate experts, but are opposed to literacy and science?  Or in a more realistic example, what if some parents lack the skills needed to evaluate school quality and unintentionally send their child to a low-quality school that fails to develop the child’s potential?

In cases where parental choice does not lead to the accomplishment of society’s goals, society should not be expected to fund a student’s education.  Instead, society has a right to expect that any institution receiving funding be held accountable for accomplishing the shared goals of public education.  A mechanism for such oversight is absent in most voucher and educational savings accounts programs across the country.

Through a tax credit program, Georgia already provides significant amounts of funding to independent schools every year.  However, those schools are not evaluated for their quality.  Traditional public schools are expected to meet certain benchmarks that measure the learning their students have achieved.  Why should publicly funded independent schools not be held to the same standard?

Georgia is not alone in its failure to develop strong accountability systems for independent schools funded with public money.  The problem is so widespread that researchers have struggled to evaluate the effectiveness of most voucher programs.  However, we do have some evidence on parental choice from charter schools which are required to take annual state exams.  That evidence shows that parental choice alone is not enough.

As charter schools have expanded across the nation, we have seen the benefits of oversight in ensuring consistent and high-quality education is delivered to students.  Massachusetts has a record of strong oversight while Arizona, Michigan, and Ohio are known for their lax accountability.  The quality of charter schools in those states, as measured by student learning on annual exams, is consistent with the track record they have established for accountability.  Boston’s charters significantly outperformed others around the nation in a CREDO analysis published earlier this year.

In many ways, implementing an education savings account program without significant changes in the way Georgia holds schools accountable, is similar to the choice that Arizona, Michigan, and Ohio made to provide lax oversight of their charter schools.  We should instead follow Massachusetts’ lead.

Parental choice is a component of education reform, but it should be paired with accountability mechanisms that ensure schools are achieving society’s goals.  Without accountability, the public cannot be assured that their investments in education are being implemented effectively.

We can all agree that the historical structure of zoned schools has disenfranchised many of our society’s most vulnerable students by forcing them to attend low-quality schools.  However, parental choice is not a silver-bullet solution to this problem.  Instead, our state will benefit from a balanced approach that pairs choice with accountability.

Reader Comments 0

259 comments
Jackalope
Jackalope

Fine.  I'm all for accountability.  Here's a novel idea...let everyone keep their own money and pay to educate their own kids.  How's that for REALLY being "accountable".

This is how idiotic our society has become.  We expect parents to feed, clothe and house their own children, but somewhere along the line somebody came up with the idea that the government should impose its ideas on education on our youth and that taxpayers should pay for this indoctrination.  Now we have a GSU Doctoral Professor telling us that these schools should be "accountable"....while schools that are NOT the choice of the parents aren't accountable for a damn thing.


gactzn2
gactzn2

@30097 But more importantly- meritocracy is not real.  Institutionalized racism and elitism will ensure that a schism exists between the rich and the poor.  Underemployment and low SES groups will always feel the pinch as there is no opportunity to develop and instill cultural or intellectual capital into their children.

30097
30097

@gactzn2 

If you're fully invested in promoting racial discord, envy and division then there's no reasoning with you. Education reform and parental choice will move forward without you.

gactzn2
gactzn2

@30097 @gactzn2 Not sure about the above statement- I merely made an observation that is a dystopia compared to your depiction- nonetheless- I prefer to view all sides to an issue and not just consider only what I wish to see. Discord and Envy- never; Dissidence- definitely.  

AvgGeorgian
AvgGeorgian

@gactzn2 @30097

All taxpayers money should not follow students anymore than public safety, food safety, transportation, fire safety, water treatment, recreation, etc.. money should follow the citizen. 


What kind of weird alternative universe has been set up in "follow the money" folks' minds that parents of school aged children are an elite group entitled to their neighbors education tax money for whatever educational purpose they choose. It is simply a huge orchestrated swindle that will enrich a small percentage of families at the expense of others. See private school tax credit for reference on one way it works.

30097
30097

@AvgGeorgian 

Giving parents zero choices is the "weird" universe we currently inhabit—a full half century after realizing too many schools are failing and educrats will not reform. 

visiting
visiting

@AvgGeorgian @gactzn2 @30097 It's not a "huge, orchestrated swindle." It's the road being taken by all the developed countries that are beating us by two to three grade levels in math and science! The US is the last OECD nation to condemn students to making nearly a quarter million dollars less over the course of their lives simply because they were born in the wrong Zip code. Follow the lead of Japan, Germany, South Korea and others. They are winning and we are losing, and it's getting worse. If corrupt, bloated public schools and their cheating teachers and administrators are able to compete in the marketplace, fine. If not, it's time to move forward without them.


redweather
redweather

So many posting here on this topic offer nothing in the way of empirical evidence.  For that reason I am posting yet another link to a review of charter schools and their impact on student achievement. The evidence is mixed, and there's no getting around that. Charter schools are not a panacea nor are they an ugly two-headed monster created by ALEC.


http://usm.maine.edu/sites/default/files/cepare/PublicCharterSchoolsWeb.pdf

AvgGeorgian
AvgGeorgian

The majority of private school tax credits that cost Georgians 58 Million or about $18 per household went to households in the top 25% of income earners. There is NO REQUIREMENT that a student has to attend public school prior to getting the tax credit scholarship for private schools. There is no testing accountability. There is no financial accountability. There is no way to determine the cost/savings of the tax credit.


All Georgians have to make up the lost tax revenue, so most Georgians are paying to subsidize private school for families that have higher incomes than them.


That is our current record on financial and educational accountability on vouchers.

AvgGeorgian
AvgGeorgian

Correction - The majority of private school tax credit scholarships that cost Georgians 58 Million or about $18 per household went to households in the top 25% of income earners.

AvgGeorgian
AvgGeorgian

@flaneur_ @AvgGeorgian


GA uses sales taxes, property taxes, and income taxes to fund the state. All people pay at least 2 of these and many people that don't pay income tax are retired and wealthy.

gactzn2
gactzn2

You cannot buy educational excellence- it requires sweat equity from students.

class80olddog
class80olddog

For all of you claiming that vouchers will "strip schools of needed resources" - how will that happen.  They are spending an average of $8000 per student now - the only change will be where that $8000 is spent.  They get less money but they pay out less money.  If 35 students leave a school - one teacher is not needed.  If that teacher is a good teacher - he/she moves over to the charter/ private school.


Now the fly in the ointment is that schools will say that the students who leave are not getting $8000 spent on them.  But they won't break down how much they are actually spending.  No one on here is arguing dollars and cents - they just refuse ANY voucher system.  In truth, school spending per student is highly skewed - the average "good" student may have $4000 spent on them, while an average SPED student may have $20000 spent on them.  But schools don't want you to know that (then some people might question if we are getting our "money's worth").

gactzn2
gactzn2

@class80olddog Most of those funds are federal and are related to additional resources for Title 1 schools. There are spending inequities within the state as all schools are not Title 1 schools and SPED populations vary. If you research charter school spending- think about your local public schools without the current programs it does have.  Many of them are truly "bare boned" operations and the costs will not change- but the services the child receives will (and it will be less than what they currently have).  Public schools are not perfect, but I personally think that it will work better than any "free market" approach.  Schools were never designed that way.  Charters are not what they appear to be. Just research them.  This approach has yet to work anywhere.

AvgGeorgian
AvgGeorgian

@gactzn2 @class80olddog


I understand your 35 student example (assuming 35 same age kids from the same grade level and placement level-highly unlikely) but other fixed costs will remain, utilities, transportation, equipment, school  staff and admin. etc..

flaneur_
flaneur_

Get Schooled is the voice of "the blob" in Georgia. 

That's the anti-reform educational establishment, which also generates the vast majority of the daily content of this newspaper column. 

What principally motivates them is the broader interest of teachers' unions which see reform—any reform—as potentially threatening to union revenues in states where forced union membership is a condition of employment. But they also share a mistaken belief that black students will always lag behind their white and Asian counterparts, no matter what, and preserving failing public schools is thus the only way to ensure the integration of those unable to move to wealthier zip codes (where the children of the blob are mostly educated).

gactzn2
gactzn2

@flaneur_ Economically disadvantaged students (black and white) will always lag behind if they never go anywhere (no field trips), are taught by inexperienced teachers (less than 5 years), are restricted to a narrow test based curriculum (CRCT, SLO, GHGST), and come from a home where education is not a priority.  If these are prevailing factors in a community it usually births a failing pubic school.  Students and parents complete the 3-legged stool- it will not stand if it solely rests on the teacher

flaneur_
flaneur_

@gactzn2 

If poor students can't learn, why are taxpayers paying so very much to educate them?
And if they can learn—then shouldn't we aim for something better than failing traditional public schools?

gactzn2
gactzn2

@flaneur_ @gactzn2 Research the reasons for teacher flight from many urban schools.  Teaching in failing schools is a totally different experience than that in the suburbs- even in the same school district.  Teachers are not empowered to help students succeed in these schools (no discipline or support).  They cannot succeed.  

flaneur_
flaneur_

@gactzn2 @flaneur_ 

You want it both ways: more money for education, but no accountability for poor results. 

And above all no choice.

gactzn2
gactzn2

@flaneur_ @gactzn2 Not at all- I welcome fair, and well vetted measures of accountability that measure my efforts- why should those measures rest on the test scores of students who test well or not on a given day.  Let's review accountability as a series of measures, inclusive of all aspects of a learning plan (pre-tests, formatives, post-tests, activities, instructional practice, classroom climate, etc.).  Test scores alone do not tell the story.  It is like a "failing school" with excellent teachers who have created great relationships with their students who do not get credit for their efforts.  Look beyond metrics.

flaneur_
flaneur_

@gactzn2 

Empower parents to individually decide whether they're convinced by that argument.

gactzn2
gactzn2

@flaneur_ @gactzn2 The choice is already here.  People can move if they are dissatisfied with a local school or get permission to attend another.  

gactzn2
gactzn2

@flaneur_ @gactzn2 You obviously missed the point.  It is a systemic issue that lies in the very hands of those who have sold you on charter schools- and the myth of failing public schools.  A school is only as "good" as its community.  

gactzn2
gactzn2

As I have said, this has been a long time coming since school vouchers first emerged.  It is all by design.  Strip schools of necessary resources, restrict schools to a set of rules that are counter productive to what does work. Set unreasonable standards, spread malicious rumors about how worthless public schools are, then sit back and watch schools fail.  Use this as evidence to push your agenda.  Ultimately, this only benefits small, economically sound communities.  This will not change issues in schools labeled failing, but it provides a legal avenue by which private industry is able to raid the coffers of public tax money.  The Opportunity School district provides opportunity to who and how? Next question- how will they determine who will teach in the Opportunity School District- or will the schools be reconstituted, teachers displaced (RIFFED), then younger teachers from Teach for America have a place to work for 3-4 years while they pay off their student loans before moving on?  (akin to a Peace Corps for public education- you serve a few years and we will forgive your student loan)- and you remain cheap for the duration- like a "teaching mill".

AvgGeorgian
AvgGeorgian

Let's see. You want choice. here is a perfectly fair plan for school choice, just like the charter schools.


1. Every student in the district is entered into a lottery. 


2. When your name comes up, you get to choose your school- first come, first serve.


That's what you pro choicers want isn't it? The chance for all children stuck in struggling schools to have a chance to go to a better school? Or is it to make sure that only your child gets one of the limited slots in the "better" schools?

Starik
Starik

@AvgGeorgian Shouldn't parents worry about making sure their kids have a safe, enjoyable, and effective public education?

AvgGeorgian
AvgGeorgian

@Starik 


Sure. But it is subsidized public education. All parents want safe, enjoyable, and effective public education. Shouldn't ALL children have the same chance to get that. The district lottery would provide the same chance for all students.


I am a conservative. I am for conserving our money by more financial accountability for education spending for all schools. I am for conserving our time and our energy by more state leadership accountability for providing an effective testing program, effective curriculum, effective training, and effective research and reporting to determine what works.




Sign In
Sign In

@AvgGeorgian

Anyone the least familiar with your windy rants on AJC blogs laughs at your claim of being a conservative. Or caring about kids.

flaneur_
flaneur_

@Sign In @AvgGeorgian 

I wish he would find another interest in life beyond spamming blogs with scores of ill-reasoned opinions each day.

What do his 24 comments (to this topic alone!) add?

Starik
Starik

@AvgGeorgian @Starik Okay, so you live in a nice neighborhood, where the local schools are reasonably good, and the politicians on the school board move a lot of kids from bad neighborhoods into your school by manipulating attendance areas - what then?  Are you obligated to keep your kids in the school? 

gactzn2
gactzn2

@Starik @AvgGeorgian How sure are you that there will not be any kids from "bad neighborhoods" at your new school?  There are "bad apples" in every neighborhood- unfortunately the only difference is the poison- pick one

Starik
Starik

@gactzn2 @Starik @AvgGeorgian Well, you can look at the percentage of free lunch kids in the school - when there's a large majority of these kids they'll drive the mission and atmosphere of the school.

AvgGeorgian
AvgGeorgian

@Starik @flaneur @gactzn2 @Sign In


You still do not address why a district wide lottery would not be the best method to give all kids a chance.


Pro choicers as usual cannot back up their claim to want choice for all. Instead they complain about me posting data and citations backing up my points. If you don't care for my logic or data, offer some of your own instead of tired slogans and of the wall opinions with nothing to back them up. Here's a tip. My avatar is a bright green arrow - easy to skip, or are you skeerd I'm using up too much of your information superhighway?



Funny that they don't understand what conservative is."holding to traditional attitudes and values and cautious about change or innovation", as in "I am cautious about changing to "choice"  because there is no financial or performance accountability".

popacorn
popacorn

Sometimes, things get so bad, that choosing the unknown is a wise move. Let a fire consume you or jump out of the 20 story building? You'll jump. No amount of 'research', or edubabble buzz words, or poorly written papers/blog entries will sway you one bit. Any option is preferable to the present situation. 

Politicians. Educators. Whoever. You have created this wreckage. Don't deny folks the opportunity to take a 'desperate measure' to escape the desperate/dangerous enviornment that you have allowed to fester into chaos. 

AvgGeorgian
AvgGeorgian

@popacorn


Are schools failing or is the state of Georgia's republican leaders failing to create:

1. A nationally comparable assessment plan to determine student performance and prescribe teaching goals.

2. A straightforward curriculum with materials that is teachable in 1 semester/year.

3. Effective professional training on goals and curriculum.

3. Uniform, easy to understand, financial accountability for all schools so that taxpayers can understand where the money goes.

4. Yearly reports on what is working and what needs to be changed.

Where is the leadership? It seems the leadership is saying "things need fixing, but we don't have a clue how to do it, let’s just turn the taxpayer money over to charters, private schools, parents, forget about accountability, and hope for the best". 

sneakpeakintoeducation
sneakpeakintoeducation

The building isn't burning. The "schools are failing" mantra has been designed by those that want to put our public schools into the hands of the privateers. Naomi Klein explains it very well in "The Shock Doctrine". First, create a disaster in the perception of the public eye (the nation at risk report), then create the solutions (privitization of public entities), watch the public money flow into the hands of private companis/corporations with little or no accountability. This is a very basic description but it follows Milton Friedman's plan to privatize public entities. The good news is America can see the failed experiment of how that worked in Chile and not follow that disastrous path.

class80olddog
class80olddog

@sneakpeakintoeducation  So you deny these allegations:

Teachers not allowed to call a resource officer when there is a fight.

Principals ordering teachers to change grades and changing grades themselves.

APS cheating on CRCT test scores.

Legislature allowing 8000 students who failed the GHSGT to receive diplomas.

Principals (and teachers) promoting students who are no where near prepared for the next grade.

Principals fudging attendance records.


So teachers on here - Sneaky is calling you liars!

sneakpeakintoeducation
sneakpeakintoeducation

@class80olddog @sneakpeakintoeducation

Wow, Classdog, you are now being very provacative with your insults and trying to put words into my mouth. If you feel that the shoe fits, wear it. I am merely pointing out that the current myth that our public schools is failing is being propagated by those that want their hands in the pots. Are there problems with our schools? Yes, some but not all. Can they be improved? Yes, but not with the current policies that have failed to show, after some 20 years, the improvements that would be worth tearing down our public schools system for.  Have a nice 4th of July and if anyone is calling anyone a liar, that one is on you.


dean_leeper
dean_leeper

The article is not anti-choice. It is against using tax dollars to fund schools without accountability for performance.

thenoticer
thenoticer

@dean_leeper I would also like to hear someone defend the allowances for charter schools and how it is fair that neighborhood schools must abide by a different set of rules. Every school should be allowed the same freedoms. I also wonder if charter school outcomes would be different if they were assigned the random students that neighborhood schools get. By the way, I am in favor of allowing parents to choose to send their children to school with children of other motivated parents, I just want the system to be fair. No child deserves to have their educational opportunities diminished by children with no "home training." Choice advocates have some serious blinders on at the moment. Tax dollars need to be used wisely and FAIRLY.

thenoticer
thenoticer

@dean_leeper See my rant below about choice vs. chance. This is the sort of unfairness I don't want my tax dollars to support.

class80olddog
class80olddog

@thenoticer @dean_leeper  As I have said many times - the "rules" that traditional schools follow (to which charters might not ) are SELF-IMPOSED.  No LAW says that attendance cannot be enforced.  No LAW says you cannot discipline a child (even by spanking).  No LAW says you have to socially promote a child (actually the LAW says you CAN"T do this without fulfilling a list of requirements).