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

Saturday, May 7, 2016

School Vouchers Are Not a Cure For Segregation: Part III, New Orleans

Here are links to all five parts of the series:

Part I

Part II

Part III : New Orleans

Part IV: Milwaukee

PartV: Washington DC and Conclusion

* * *

Those who vouch for school vouchers, like Kevin Chavous, badly want to sell the myth that the "system is color blind and largely benefits minority families."

The problem is that we've now had school voucher programs in various places for a good long while, and the results range from weak to downright ugly:
  • None of the independent studies performed of the most lauded and long standing voucher programs extant in the U.S.Milwaukee, Wisconsin; Cleveland, Ohio; and Washington, D.C.found any statistical evidence that children who utilized vouchers performed better than children who did not and remained in public schools.
Even though they tried as hard as they could, researchers in Milwaukee could only find, at best, small effect sizes for voucher schools. Same in Washington, DC: no effect in math, and 0.11 SD in reading, equivalent to moving from the 50th to the 54th percentile.

Weak as these results are, however, at least they aren't as bad as what has been happening in New Orleans:
These are not just mediocre schools; many are church schools that offer different varieties of religious instruction subsidized with public funds. Some teach junk science ("creationism") and apparently discriminate against students based on their sexual orientation and religion.
Last December, the Massachusetts-based National Bureau of Economic Researchissued a report after an extensive examination of the program's results. The conclusions by the report's authors were disturbing, if not surprising. "Attendance at an LSP-eligible private school lowers math scores by 0.4 standard deviations and increases the likelihood of a failing score by 50 percent," the three economists who compiled the report concluded. "Voucher effects for reading, science and social studies are also negative and large."
A February 2016 report by the Education Research Alliance for New Orleans found much the same. And last year, Danielle Dreilinger of NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune reported, "One third of Louisiana's voucher students are enrolled at private schools doing such a poor job of educating them that the schools have been barred from taking new voucher students, according to [state] Education Department data." [emphasis mine]
Given this awful track record, it's no wonder supporters of vouchers have been looking for something -- anything -- positive they can say about Louisiana's voucher program. And so this report, from the same folks at the Education Research Alliance, has been held up as evidence that the voucher schools, even if they are educationally lousy, at least have the benefit of helping desegregation.

Unfortunately, when you dig into the report, you find it's got some serious limitations. Transfers out of public schools that "reduce segregation" are defined as: "...when a student of a given race leaves a school that is disproportionally composed of students of his same race relative to the greater CBSA. Conversely, outcomes that increase racial segregation occur when a student leaves a school in which the proportion of his race is less than the proportion of individuals of that race in the greater CBSA.

See the limitation? A student need only transfer to a school that has a slightly different racial profile for that transfer to be credited with "reducing segregation." In addition, the overall transfers into private schools are increasing, not decreasing, segregation (p. 23).

Again, this is the overall state of Orleans Parish private schools:

The vast majority of Orleans Parish private schools enroll student populations that are less than 20 percent, even though the parish's overall child population is 71.7 percent black.

Note also that there is a substantial number of private school students who attend highly segregated -- greater than 90 percent black -- schools. Yet very few Orleans Parish private school students attend schools that match the overall racial profile of the area.

Let's look at this from the perspective of the proportion of white students in the private schools:

Again: there are very few private schools in Orleans Parish that match the overall racial profile of the area. Most of NOLA's private schools have populations where white students constitute the vast majority of students.

I don't see how anyone could describe this as "color blind."

Now, one problem with using New Orleans as an example of the relationship between vouchers and school segregation is that school vouchers are limited and still relatively new: they've only been in NOLA since 2008, and only expanded across the state in 2012. Given the vast turmoil post-Katrina Louisiana has seen, we'd probably be better off looking at the effects of vouchers on segregation in other regions.

So let's head to Milwaukee next.

Color blind?

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