Friday, June 15, 2012

Limited Choice Doesn’t Support New School Models, Study Finds

School choice is growing nationwide, but existing programs don’t support highly innovative school models, according to a new study. Although previous research has established a moderate academic benefit from those programs, the study suggests universal school choice for all families would bring to scale the kind of dramatic models piloted by such schools as Carpe Diem, Rocketship Education, or KIPP.

Greg Forster, Ph.D., and James L. Woodworth, M.Ed., authors of “The Greenfield School Revolution and School Choice,” took a critical look at whether current private school choice plans are driving structural innovation in America’s private schools. The authors find that in spite of moderate academic benefits, cities and states with school choice aren’t seeing larger structural changes in private schooling. The real entrepreneurial activity, they suggest, is in charter schools; but they warn that momentum can’t last forever.

“From digital learning to college prep, the most innovative schooling models tend to be in charter schools,” Forster said. “But the natural tendency of government to get in the way is already limiting those innovations. The private schooling sector has the potential to foster much more ambitious reforms.”

In the “Greenfield” report, U.S. Department of Education data were analyzed to see whether that potential is being tapped by existing choice programs in Arizona, Florida, Minnesota, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Washington, D.C., and Wisconsin. None appears to have led to major changes in the private school sector. Only the programs in Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, and Arizona have produced even modest structural changes in private schooling; none is producing significant disruption of the status quo.

Forster and Woodworth claim charter innovators, on the other hand, have succeeded because they are chosen by parents, “free” to consumers, and less regulated than traditional public schools. Those features, they say, could be amplified if all parents were empowered through a universal school choice policy.

“The private education sector isn’t innovating because not enough people are using it,” Woodworth said. “Families aren’t using it because there’s a tuition barrier that’s difficult to overcome. But if all parents had access to, say, vouchers for their kids, that tuition barrier would be removed or greatly lowered.”

The goal, according to the authors, “shouldn’t be just to push some kids from one existing system into different existing systems. The goal should be to empower parents and entrepreneurs to create new schooling models that drive meaningful innovation and improvement in all schools, public and private.”

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