I will protect your pensions. Nothing about your pension is going to change when I am governor. - Chris Christie, "An Open Letter to the Teachers of NJ" October, 2009

Monday, August 27, 2012

UPDATE: Another Blow For Vouchers


Ruh-roh (via Diane Ravitch):
The latest evaluation of the Florida voucher program showed that students in voucher schools made academic gains similar to their peers in public schools.
From the report:
Test score gains for program participants are virtually identical to those of income- eligible non-participants remaining in Florida public schools. Participating students gained slightly relative to comparable public school students in 2010-11, though this difference is not statistically significant. It is important to recall that the participating students differ from the income-eligible public school students in important ways – their incomes are substantially lower and their previous test performance in public school tended to be substantially lower. These differences make direct comparison of gain scores more problematic. Because families can choose whether to participate in the program, it is inappropriate to consider the differences in test score gains between FTC Program participants and their public school counterparts to be caused by program participation. 
It is, therefore, best to consider the fact that test score gains are extremely similar between the public and private sector to be suggestive evidence of little difference in average performance across the sectors, rather than causal evidence of differential performance. That said, in past cohorts for whom there existed sufficient data to estimate the causal consequences of program participation, there was evidence of positive effects of participation in the FTC program, especially for math. Little has changed in terms of test scores or factors influencing program participation across cohorts, indicating that one might infer, albeit with caution, that positive effects found in prior cohorts continued to the most recent application cohort. 
Recent statistical research has shown that the FTC Program has improved the performance of Florida public schools to a modest degree. Therefore, the correct interpretation of the findings in this report are that students participating in the program have kept pace with the improvements in the public schools associated with the FTC Program. [emphasis mine]
But I thought vouchers scholarships were going to "save" kids!  Tom Moran told us we needed them to  help kids "escape"! George Norcross, Chris Christie, and Cory Booker all agreed that vouchers scholarships were critically important! Even B4K supported the Opportunity Scholarship Act (albeit weakly).

Most importantly, the wealthy Peter Denton appears to be willing to keep the money flowing to E3 so the professional voucher scholarship cheerleaders can keep plugging away in New Jersey for the 14th year. I guess that's Denton's contribution to the employment crisis...

Yes, the evidence keeps piling up that vouchers scholarships are not a miracle cure for urban education - but these guys just keep at it, oblivious to facts and research. As long as they're getting funding and support from the press, why would they ever stop?

UPDATE: Bob Sikes takes a look at this study:
The Tampa Bay Times Cara Fitzpatrick reports on the second conveniently released study to support one of Jeb Bush’s pet projects. Last week, a study from a researcher who works for a center chaired by Jeb Bush  released a report favorable to the state’s 3rd grade FCAT-based retention policy. This time it’s vouchers – and from a familiar source.
Northwestern University professor David Figlio – whose brother interestingly works in Governor Rick Scott’s administration – published a report in September 2011 which purported to demonstrate the success of Florida’s Tax Credit (FTC) scholarship as a “money saver” His tortured data massage was called an  ”apples-to-oranges-to-last-year’s-pears” analysis (that was) used to justify Florida’s two voucher programs.
Perhaps still stinging from  the mocking his last masterpiece churned up, Figilo was a bit more believable this time. But only just a bit. His research fairly concluded that FTC students were having the same results as similar students in public schools were having.
So then no real difference, right? Wrong
Perhaps keeping in mind who wanted this study Figlio came to the stunningly outrageous conclusion that the FTC scholarship program has “lead to modest and statistically significant improvement in public school performance across the state.” And also that the existence of the FTC scholarship has “boosted student performance statewide.”
Was this crap even peer-reviewed? It was hard enough to conclude that performances were similar between scholarship kids and non-scholarship kids as they aren’t measured by the same test. FTC scholarship kids don’t take the FCAT. According to Fitzpatrick’s report, only 65% take another test – the Sanford Achievement Test. To further take the leap that FTC has improved overall state performance is real Baghdad Bob stuff.
And this tripe was paid for by Florida taxpayers.  Are lawmakers  and State Board members to see this as trusted research that dictates policy and legislation on behalf of taxpayers?
Here's the study, which I'm now looking at more carefully. My first impression: Bob's got a point. Not only do there seem to be some serious design flaws here; there's no citation to any evidence that FTC improved statewide performance. I have serious reservations that you could ever show that vouchers make public schools better.

I'm not sure we can draw any meaningful conclusions from Foglio's work, either pro or con, about vouchers. I'm going to read this more carefully and report back later.


Stuart Buck said...

If it's a "blow" for vouchers to be found to have improved education across the board in Florida -- both in public schools and for the voucher students who are keeping pace (see your own highlighted sentence) -- then I wonder what it would take to have a "success"?

Karen Foster said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Karen Foster said...

Sorry, needed to make a punctuation edit...
Evidently it needs to be spelled out for you Mr. Buck. BECAUSE they found no significant difference in the achievement levels of voucher students (else they would have shouted from the rooftops), they decided to claim that both voucher and public school students made gains attributable to voucher program. This is so absurd, I can't believe they stated it.
Had that grade level made any gains BEFORE the program began? Considering that the national trend is for students to make improvements from year to year, I'm going to guess that you think they'd be justified in saying that the voucher program was beneficial to all students nationwide as well?
Another question, Why are they afraid to have the voucher students take the SAME TEST, the FCAT, that the public school students take so apples may be compared to apples?