Friday, July 8, 2011

Setting the Record Straight in Louisiana!

We here at School Choice Now! are all for healthy debate about our programs—and education reform proposals in general—to ensure that, above all else, they're helping kids. But what we don't like is when people take potshots at school choice programs based upon single snapshots of slanted data, and especially when such potshots disregard a host of other metrics that tell a completely different story.

In Louisiana, data was recently released comparing standardized test scores of some students participating in the New Orleans voucher program to their public school peers. Putting aside the host of data and feedback that illustrates great satisfaction (not to mention increased demand) with the program, one analysis of the data in particular fails to take into account some of its glaring flaws.

In a release that went out today on behalf of the Louisiana Federation for Children, we aim to set the record straight. Read the full details here.

Furthermore, the State Department of Education is on record saying that the snapshot is not an accurate image of how students in the New Orleans program are faring. This contradicts one of the most prominent criticisms of the newly-released data, from Leslie Jacobs, claiming that the data reeks of voucher under-performance.

Jacobs made the same criticisms in 2010, but a closer look at her analysis from an insightful examination last year shows some gaping holes:

...a former insurance executive and state board of education member named Leslie Jacobs came up with a comparison of voucher students and public school students. As far as I can tell, that comparison is available only in a blog post:
In the 2009-10 school year, 1113 children in grades K-4 received vouchers to attend one of the 32 participating non-public schools. Unfortunately, looking at the spring 2010 test scores, voucher students performed much worse than students in the New Orleans RSD – both its traditionally run public schools and public charter schools.
. . . .
The performance of students enrolled in the voucher program raises serious concerns. While Louisiana’s proficiency goal is for all students to be Basic and above, in the voucher schools, only 35% of 3rd graders and 29% of 4th graders earned scores indicating they are grade level proficient in reading. Compare that to the RSD charters, where 54% of 3rd graders and 58% of 4th graders scored Basic and above. In fact, in English 4th grade students enrolled in the RSD charter schools outperformed students attending voucher schools by 2 to 1.
That’s the full extent of the “analysis” section. Evidently, all that Ms. Jacobs did was compare the raw average scores of voucher students to those of New Orleans public school students as a whole. Needless to say, this “analysis” is worthless — she’s comparing poorer students from failing public schools to everyone else. It’s unsurprising that the former might not be doing quite as well. Such an apples-to-oranges comparison tells us nothing about the performance of voucher-receiving private schools.

Needless to say, this seems much more like an ideological aversion to the idea of school choice as opposed to any true issues with the program. We're strong supporters of accountability in school choice programs, as without it, we risk undermining the fundamental reason why we're in this fight. But we hope that in the future, before folks make broad and blanket claims about the progress of New Orleans scholarship students, they'll be able to check their biases at the door.

- American Federation for Children | Alliance for School Choice, MAG

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