Survey of Private School Advocates Raises Accountability Issues
April 15, 2009

Fordham report focuses on accountability for voucher schools and highlights differing standards for public schools, according to new review

Contact: Teri Battaglieri – (517-203-2940),
Ernie House – (720-938-1826 US, 61-409705653 Australia), (Visiting Professor, Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology until April 30)

EAST LANSING, MI (April 15, 2009)—A recent report examines the opinions of private education advocates concerning how private schools that accept public money should be held accountable. A new review of the report finds that it offers some useful insights and raises some important issues about public and private school accountability.

The report, “When Private Schools Take Public Dollars: What’s the Place of Accountability in School Voucher Programs?” was published by the Thomas B. Fordham Institute. It was reviewed for the Think Twice project by Ernest House, emeritus professor in the School of Education at the University of Colorado at Boulder and an expert in program evaluation and education policy.

The Fordham report is based on a survey of people the report describes as “experts in the school choice world,” who are all supporters of school choice and vouchers. The respondents answered questions about how private schools that accept public money in the form of vouchers might be held accountable.

Survey respondents generally agreed that the government should not regulate private schools’ day-to-day operations, regardless of the amount of public money they receive; that parents should receive information about their own children’s performance in school; and that voucher programs should be subject to rigorous evaluation by third-party researchers.

However, there was considerable disagreement about making school results and financial audits public. Some thought there should be no requirement for public reporting or oversight, while others thought private schools receiving public money should be subject to the same accountability as public schools. The report concludes with a recommendation from the Fordham authors that favors increased requirements for transparency and accountability as public voucher revenues increase to any given private school – a sliding scale approach.

In his review, House observes that political and legal pressures have been mounting against voucher programs, including programs in Washington, D.C., Milwaukee and Arizona. He also notes that the Fordham report acknowledges that public opinion polls show that a majority of Americans believe private schools that accept public funding should be subject to the same accountability requirements as public schools—“a position not favored by the private educators.”

A key point made by Professor House is that “The researchers do not claim these views represent the views of all private education experts. The study is more an issue-clarifying exercise.” Accordingly, the survey should not be generalized to estimate the opinions of any particular segment of the population, and the Fordham authors were careful not to do so.

House credits the report for making “an honest attempt to tackle the difficulties of holding private schools accountable” and reasons that the study is likely to be useful given both the influence of the survey respondents and the likely continued interest by the administration of President Obama in broader school choice practices (although, apparently, not vouchers) and accountability testing.

Find Ernest House’s review on the web at:

About The Think Twice Project
The Think Twice project provides the public, policy makers and the press with timely, academically sound reviews of selected think tank publications. It is a collaboration of the Education Policy Studies Laboratory at Arizona State University and the Education and the Public Interest Center at the University of Colorado at Boulder and is funded by the Great Lakes Center for Education Research and Practice.


The mission of the Great Lakes Center is to improve public education for all students in the Great Lakes region through the support and dissemination of high quality, academically sound research on education policy and practices.

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