The political tide in Arkansas, influenced by Walton Family Foundation money, is running in favor of both more charter schools (privately operated with public money and no direct public oversight) and vouchers (straight transfers of public money to private schools, including those operated by churches.)

So here’s some reading on the subject of “school choice” for lawmakers to consider when the inevitable legislation appears this year to further erode support for conventional public schools:


* CHARTERS, THE NEW “SUB-PRIME MORTGAGES” A new study likens charter schools to subprime mortgages, a risky business you may remember.

The study says that while charter-school boards have the responsibility to follow the laws mandated of public schools [and in Arkansas the state regulators aren’t too vigorous in enforcing those standards on charters], the incentive of these outside organizations is to increase revenue or cut expenses. And that misalignment creates an environment that may discriminate against students the organizations see as “too expensive,” such as those with disabilities, according to the study.

Charter schools emphasize reaching and serving those most likely to succeed in the first place, beginning with better family situations? Say it ain’t so.


As someone else observed this week, school choice really means the schools choose who to educate, particularly in voucher programs to private schools, more than the families choose.

* VOUCHERS DON’T WORK: An important finding from the Brookings Institute says that some deep studies have found that voucher programs not only don’t work, they seem to have had a negative impact on students’ education.


Recent research on statewide voucher programs in Louisiana and Indiana has found that public school students that received vouchers to attend private schools subsequently scored lower on reading and math tests compared to similar students that remained in public schools. The magnitudes of the negative impacts were large. These studies used rigorous research designs that allow for strong causal conclusions. And they showed that the results were not explained by the particular tests that were used or the possibility that students receiving vouchers transferred out of above-average public schools.

There are of course some good private schools. But open the door to transfer of public money and some pretty bad ones will rush to capture the dough. I’ve read before about some poor excuses for schools that have capitalized in Louisiana. These included small church schools that taught creationism as science and did not teach evolution.

But a particularly interesting aspect of the study is how traditional public schools have been closing the historic gap in scores between public and private students, particularly among poorer students.