"Private-Public School" Report Leaps to Unsupported Recommendations
Fordham report's call for expansion of private school vouchers is unsupported by data and based on tenuous logic, according to new review
EAST LANSING, Mi., (March 24, 2010) – A recently released report identifies public schools across the U.S. that enroll very few students from low-income families and uses the existence of these schools to argue that private schools should be publically funded by vouchers and tax credits. A Think Twice review of that report concludes that the report's policy arguments are based on tenuous logic, oversimplification and "critical omissions of fact, context and prior research."
The Thomas B. Fordham Institute report, America's Private Public Schools, was reviewed by professor John Yun of the University of California, Santa Barbara.
Yun observes that the report does raise interesting issues in its finding that about 4 percent of the public school population attend some 2,800 schools where fewer than 1 in 20 students qualify for free- or reduced-price lunch. In the report, these schools are labeled "private public schools."
The report argues that the prevalence of these "exclusive" schools justifies the expansion of publically funded private school voucher and tuition tax credit programs. Yet, Yun says, the report's attempts to use its findings to support that recommendation don't hold up. Moreover, even the term itself is misleading since it implies that lack of poverty alone makes a private school.
The report's primary argument to tie lower levels of class segregation to school choice policies is extremely weak. Essentially, the report points to some states with choice policies and points out that they have fewer identified "public private schools." But Yun notes that the report offers little or no evidence to meaningfully link choice policies to lesser segregation, beyond sweeping "associational implications." The report also fails to explore alternative explanations for such variations, such as historic housing segregation or the presence of large county-wide districts (which tend to have less segregation) common in Southern states like Florida.
Beyond these problems, Yun notes serious concerns about accuracy of the report's data, classifications, and calculations. Some schools classified as "private public" appear to be quite diverse, while others that escaped this classification appear to have few if any low-income students. Moreover, the report ignores prior research showing that private schools are more likely to be more economically exclusive than public schools, calling into question the recommended "solution" of sending more students to those private schools.
Yun states that, "While policymakers should indeed engage with the issue of elite, secluded public schooling, shifting more students into a private sector that is even more stratified does not appear to offer a wise solution." The report fails to explain how even a voucher policy targeted to low-income students would result in overall improvement of the segregation problem.
He concludes, "In pursuing such a flawed argument on such an important topic, the authors miss a chance to seriously address this critical issue in favor of making an unsupported recommendation for a private school voucher policy that has very little hope of addressing de facto socioeconomic segregation in any substantive way."
Find John T. Yun's review as well as a link to America's Private Public Schools on the web at: http://www.greatlakescenter.org.
About The Think Twice Project
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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