Chariho School Parents’ Forum

May 30, 2008

School Choice Works

Filed under: School Choice — Editor @ 11:13 am

From the San Diego Union Tribune:

Thanks to grossly dishonest TV ads run by the education establishment, California voters have rejected school choice – innovative programs allowing parents to take their kids out of troubled public schools and either move them to better public schools or provide them with subsidies to attend private schools. The basic, obvious idea that competition would lead poor schools to improve was trumped by a teachers union-led campaign that likened school choice to an assault on students, the very people it would help most.

Now along comes research that makes an empirical case that vouchers work. Princeton University economist Cecilia Elena Rouse and three colleagues took a close look at the results of Florida’s A+ voucher program from 2002-2007, aided by a massive, detailed study of practices at thousands of individual schools.

The program was far from ambitious. The only eligible students were those in schools that got a failing grade twice within four years from state evaluators. The vouchers were for limited sums.

Yet thousands of families took advantage of them. One result, according to Rouse’s report: The schools that were losing students quickly changed their ways and generally improved on test scores – even though they had lost many of their top students to other schools. Why? Because funding in Florida – as in California – is based on average daily attendance. Money (or a threatened loss of it) motivates.

Alas, there’s a depressing twist to this story. At the behest of teachers unions, the A+ voucher program was thrown out by Florida’s notoriously liberal Supreme Court on highly dubious grounds. But before its demise, at least the program yielded hard evidence that vouchers work.



  1. School choice works.. school choice doesn’t work… 5th & 6th grades are better in elementary.. 5th & 6th grade are better in the middle school…. Geesh, for every arguement, there’s an opposing arguement.

    Comment by CharihoParent — May 30, 2008 @ 11:37 am | Reply

  2. CP, can you provide links to any empirical research to suggest that School Choice has not worked?

    Comment by Bill Felkner — May 30, 2008 @ 11:47 am | Reply

  3. Teacher unions are powerful no doubt about it. Most of like and respect many of the teachers at public schools. I wish they’d act professionally (get rid of unions) but I like most of my kids teachers too. Many of us vote on school issues based on our personal affections for teachers. Many of us have relatives and friends who are teachers. It’s easy to see why any perceived threat against teachers gets rejected by voters. The secret is to make voters aware that being pro choice is not anti teacher. Tough to do when teacher unions throw so much money around on propaganda. Americans are too busy to figure it out. The rest of the world will keep getting ahead of us until we take the time to ask ourselves why.

    Comment by Real Question — May 30, 2008 @ 12:49 pm | Reply

  4. Well the Hopkinton Town Council better start giving some serious thought to school choice as the Rag reports the revote has made it out of the Finance Committee:

    As one would expect from a poor news source, the Rag writes that the Hopkinton Town Council objects to the bond because of an unfair tax scheme, but the Rag fails to note why the tax disparity is vitally important. As long as Hopkinton families pay two to three times more for Chariho then we can’t sustain the same level of spending as Charlestown. Fair or unfair, this reality is the main reason Hopkinton and Charlestown are unable to see eye to eye on spending at Chariho.

    Don’t hold your breath waiting for evidence that school choice is bad for children. We have a world full of children now exceeding the educational outcomes of American children. This is a fairly new development and it has happened because so many other countries offer families school choice and we don’t.

    Comment by Curious Resident — May 30, 2008 @ 1:15 pm | Reply

  5. Bill, can you do the same for school choice working? There’s arguements both ways is all that I’m trying to say. Which ever way someone wants to sway their arguement there’s articles to support their side. I’m not taking sides one way or the other at the moment, only pointing out that it gets confusing. If you’re a staunch supporter for school choice, great, just I’m not totally convinced which way is the right way.

    Comment by CharihoParent — May 30, 2008 @ 9:33 pm | Reply

  6. Well, gee whiz… here’s one with an opposing views as to why school choice does NOT work.

    The above story mentions the Wisconsin Policy Institue, similiar to Mr. Felkner’s Ocean State Policy Institute. Another conservative think tank.

    The above link goes on to say that the benefit of school choice is unclear.

    Pretty much the same thing here… I don’t find clear cut evidence that school choice works the way some people think it does.

    Hence, my not being convinced that school choice is the cure all that some make it out to be. While it is an interesting concept the results are inconclusive in my opinion.. RQ, CR, TorC, DG, et al.. please note, I said in my opinion which I’m entitled to have.

    Comment by CharihoParent — May 31, 2008 @ 1:14 pm | Reply

  7. CP, The first one should make for interesting discussions at the next conference, but I don’t argue it. Life isn’t a laboratory. And I could point to the 10:1 ratio of pro-con studies but in the efforts of full disclosure, that is probably because most funding comes from pro-choice groups (unless it comes from Gutmacher or unions). I will give kudo’s to the free-market think tank that was honest about its results. I’ll let you know when the Poverty Institute comes out with anything anti-socialism.

    All that being said, are you suggesting that since the evidence is not 100% that we should continue using a monopoly system?

    I’m not suggesting doing away with public schools (although some friends of mine do) – I’m suggesting making every school a public school and giving the parents the choice. The alternative is for one to think that the School Committee members or Town Council members are better equipped to make those decisions for every child?

    Why don’t you want to give the parents the choice?

    Comment by Bill Felkner — May 31, 2008 @ 1:28 pm | Reply

  8. Here is the complete study CP cited. It all boils down to the parents again. uninvolved- apathetic
    But thats the free-market way. I would rather have parents who don’t take care of their kids and have bad consequences than have government come in and take over the role. At least with the former you know that in a generation or two it will solve the problem on its own – the latter only gets worse with time.

    Comment by Bill Felkner — May 31, 2008 @ 2:48 pm | Reply

  9. I would rather have a choice! If vouchers do not work, I am sure that parents will place their children back in public schools.

    WHY should ANY/ALL parents have to agree with choice or no choice. Just allow vouchers, and allow parents to choose. Does not seem like a big deal to me. What is the big deal is the idea that this may very well be the way to improve the educational system for ALL, both those who prefer to use a voucher, and those who wish to remain in their own school.


    Comment by Dorothy Gardiner — May 31, 2008 @ 3:45 pm | Reply

  10. Bill knows I am not in his corner on this one. Chariho Parent is entitled to his/her opinion and I don’t believe CP said they were entirely against the proposal.

    I am also willing to listen to the discussions on school choice. I do believe it is a very good option for a large number of students – just not all the students. Tens of thousands of students choosing their school is a nightmare, but it is appropriate for a great many students and parents. Some wish to be more fundamental, some more environmental, some more artistic or more scientific.

    As an Army brat having everyone in the same place – rich-poor, quick-slow, athletic-artistic, was good for everyone to learn from each other. Private schools can accept very specific students and can offer very specific, and often very expensive options, that not everyone can possibly afford. Their scholarships are given to the smartest kids, not the hardest kids to handle. This category is kept non-existent or very very small.

    Certainly Julia Steiny (Prov Journal education writer) had a lot to say about the good parts of this option. Specifically the ability to bypass unions, tenure and the impossibility of removing incompetent teachers. This is certainly to the good. When we can’t even stagger administration terms of contract, we’re seriously in trouble. The political fall-out from that recent school board fiasco will rear it’s ugly head again before the year is out. No one should trust the school board to solve problems when the administration is so seriously duplicious. Mr. Ricci knew the contracts would roll over and did not inform the board or the public.

    Comment by BarbaraC — May 31, 2008 @ 3:45 pm | Reply

  11. Bill,
    I had been totally against school choice for various reasons but my prinicipal reason for being against it is that I really don’t like my tax dollars going to a private or charter school. My parents wanted both my sisters and me to go to a parochial school, they worked to put us through it. When it came to high school, I worked as many hours as I could to help pay for my high school.
    I’m trying to be open minded about the possibilities now but I’m still not convinced it is the right answer. I know you’re strongly in favor of it but I’m not. I’ve been reading the points on both sides and trying to decide whether it’s something we (the Town of Richmond) should look into it more.

    Comment by CharihoParent — May 31, 2008 @ 4:03 pm | Reply

  12. The arguments against school choice are so emotional. All about how they make people feel rather than how it works for the kids. Who cares if the money goes to Ricci to spend or to someone else at a parochial or charter school? Like Bill F., I trust parents a heck of a lot more than I trust Petit and others like him. Ricci decides what is best for my kids or I get to do it? No brainer there.

    Around the world parents are choosing schools. Only here, in the country founded on the principles of individual liberties and free markets do we pretend free markets won’t work for this one thing. It’s fine to worry about certain kids being left behind, but since school choice has been implemented all over the place why not do a little research and see if you can find a place where school choice is used and fails to adequately address the needs of “special” kids?

    Lots of us have friends and relatives who are public school teachers. Love them, respect them, but don’t let your affection for friends and family skew your thinking. For once let’s really make it about the kids and do what is right. School choice is right.

    Comment by Real Question — May 31, 2008 @ 6:17 pm | Reply

  13. CP, i’m not sure I understand your concern. Do you mean that you don’t want your money going to a school that uses a curriculum in which you may disagree?

    Comment by Bill Felkner — May 31, 2008 @ 7:36 pm | Reply

  14. On the special education – voucher issue:
    This is one of the mroe misunderstood issues with a choice system in education – mostly misunderstood because it’s been done so differently around the country that it is difficult to do apple-to-apple comparisons.

    The first thing to remember is that many schools want to include spec ed students. They bring in higher gross dollars. What they found in Edmonton was that different means of dealing with special need children became the issue that divided the schools. We also saw this play out in the first bid for RYSE (the second bid was a “no-bid” contract award). But the first bid involved Psy Centers, Inc., and South Shore Mental Health.

    Psy Centers, Inc., uses more of an ‘all in-house’ model and more focus on self-contained classrooms. South Shore focused on community based services and integration back into the classrooms. What they found in Edmonton was that schools became Psy Center models or South Shore models (speaking simplistically, there were variations) and parents sorted out their kids accordingly. They allowed transfers each year so if a parent decided their child was ready for inclusion, they transferred to that type of school.

    You also saw a lot more schools – obviously smaller.

    But it’s not a panacea. First of all, as CP pointed out – at least in one area, 90% of the parents didn’t bother do look at more than one school when making the “purchasing” decision. It’s their loss but that means that choice will have little or no impact on most of them.

    Also, the market takes time and the RI legislature is known for putting up obstacles. In other words, it would take time for more schools to come into the area (1904 blds?) and those on Smith Hill will still try to control them. But its still better than the alternative – IMHO.

    But if there are even a few kids that are able to get a better education, and the towns save some money,,, why not?

    Comment by Bill Felkner — May 31, 2008 @ 7:43 pm | Reply

  15. Mrs. Capalbo is a great example of the emotionalism surrounding opposition to choice…a well meaning person for the most part who disregards logic because it “feels” good to support “public” education.

    As Mr. Felkner unemotionally points out, choice results in every school potentially being a public school. Parents get to decide the educational environment instead of politicians and academic theorists. Things like constructivist math would never survive long enough to harm a generation of children if school choice was in play.

    We are living in a global age. We need to make sure we are educating our children to survive in the global marketplace. The public school status quo is a guarantee that future generations of Americans will struggle to compete. If we don’t get our heads out of the sand quickly we will get even further behind the numerous countries who allow parents to choose schools.

    I hope Mrs. Capalbo comes to her senses on this issue, but if not, I hope other Town Council members leave her clinging to the old way while they forge ahead with a plan to get our children out of the educational rut our generation has created. Any worthwhile plan must include choice.

    Comment by Curious Resident — May 31, 2008 @ 10:40 pm | Reply

  16. I believe that as a parent, social activism in the form of “let’s help the other kids” should instead be “I’m going to make sure MY kids have a good education”, and while I do that, I will work to make education better for the “other kids”. It would seem that the first duty of a parent is do the best they can to assure that their children have the best education possible, and then the parents can spread their social justice wings for everyone else. BUT to place your child in a sub standard learning environment in order to either prove a point or to disaprove of school vouchers is probably a very poor choice.

    Use a voucher system, encourage the development of excellence in public schools, and THEN place your child back in that public school when that is reached. Until then, use vouchers to obtain the very best you can for YOUR child, and support others in fighting for improved public education. I have yet to meet an adult who said “I am very happy that my parents kept me in a poor school so that they could complain about my poor education when a better education that would have prepared me for college and a career was available”.

    Comment by Dorothy Gardiner — June 1, 2008 @ 6:55 am | Reply

  17. The U.S. has been successful for the very reasons cited by Mrs. Gardiner. Individuals each working for the betterment of themselves and their families resulting in a society that is constantly improving. When the government decides they are going to design society rather than let individual actions determine the course of society we have nothing but trouble.

    The attitude that the few know more than the many is elitism and is very dangerous. Elitism is the basis for our public, government monopoly schools. Predictably the public schools fail and will continue to fail when control is taken out of the hands of the many parents and given to the few power elites. Both parents and the elite act in their own self interest, but only one group’s self interest is the best education for children. The elites best interest is not the children but themselves. As proof this is true, we have Charhiho.

    Comment by Curious Resident — June 1, 2008 @ 5:56 pm | Reply

  18. The whole love relationship with government schools is sickening! American kids are educationally behind kids from third world countries. Here we are worried about teachers when our kids can’t do math or can barely write a sentence. Let parents choose. It works. Teachers will still have jobs but now they have to actually show results. Horrors!!!

    Comment by Real Question — June 2, 2008 @ 8:06 am | Reply

  19. Rhode Island mandated that in charter schools the steps and raises teachers get in public schools had to be replicated in charter schools. The unions win, we still lose.

    RQ, in over 67% of the states the kids have better scores – we are in the bottom third. America is not failing a large number of students. We are failing students in Rhode Island (and the deep south). All interested and motivated parents assist their children to do well. It doesn’t matter where you live or, effectively, in which school district.

    It matters if teachers think drugs are the recourse of choice and we can’t fire them. If matters if superior teachers with spunk and energy are ‘bumped’ by tenured teachers with neither. Using ‘choice’ as the only option is ludicrous. The unions follow you and ingratiate themselves with the administrations. Change has to be a sea-change of everything, not just ‘choice’. If transportation isn’t addressed, you can have choice, but no bus.

    It’s like the school board trying to address roll-over contracts and then not being told they all already rolled over. Point, match. They may win the battle, but not the war. ‘Choice’ may even be the weapon of choice.

    Comment by BarbaraC — June 2, 2008 @ 9:54 pm | Reply

  20. The U.S. is clearly behind much of the world. Anyone working in the sciences or engineering can tell you how badly we are behind. Test scores only indicate how we are doing against those taking the same tests. RI may be in the bottom third of the U.S. but that doesn’t mean the U.S. isn’t in the bottom third of the world.

    Not sure what Barbara means about choice not being the only option? Choice is every option so it is the only and every all at the same time. As Bill has said, choice turns every school chosen by parents into public schools. If union schools are the best, parents will choose them. If not, they’ll go the way of the dinosaur.

    I don’t care as much about salaries. I think school employees make far too much money but even if we stay where we are but kids get a better education then I could live with it.

    Comment by Truth or Consequences — June 2, 2008 @ 10:57 pm | Reply

  21. Bill,

    I am very impressed with the debate that you have going on school choice. The point of my new blog is to get that kind of debate going on in Texas.

    The school choice crowd in Texas has been trying to pass voucher or tax credits for 15 years. I think we can do things better in the future.

    Your blog is an encouragement that someone can get comments about school choice.

    By the way, you can find the gold standard of school choice researchers at

    Bob in Texas

    Comment by letschooseschools — June 5, 2008 @ 12:55 am | Reply

  22. PS My link is

    Comment by letschooseschools — June 5, 2008 @ 1:14 am | Reply

  23. Good luck Bob in Texas! 15 years fighting for a free market approach to education? Imagine having to argue that free markets are better than a monopoly system in the United States? It blows my mind how far we’ve been pushed from the founding attitude which made us the envy of the world. Most people are apathetic. Those paying attention usually have selfish reasons for wanting to keep the school monopoly going. Scare tactics are used if the issue acutally penetrates the average person’s conciousness. In Utah they came close to statewide choice but the unions spent big buck scaring the voters back into their caves. Keep trying. How much more will our kids fall compared to the rest of thw world before we wake up? Let’s pray we wake up before it’s too late and we can’t catch up.

    Comment by Truth or Consequences — June 5, 2008 @ 9:01 am | Reply

  24. There is now a proposal before members of Congress to sponsor the Civil Rights Act for Equal Educational Opportunity. This would require the states to equitably fund the education of children in public and non-public schools, while respecting the liberty of schools in hiring and provision of services.

    We can change the tenor of this election campaign by calling upon our representatives in Washington, at 202-224-3121, and urging them to sponsor this legislation.

    Thank you for your worthy efforts.

    Comment by Israel — July 20, 2008 @ 5:30 pm | Reply

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