Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Education Choice and Competition Index: Value Questioned

The Brown Center of Education Policy at the Brookings Institution advocates for increased choice and competition in US schools and produces an annual Education Choice and Competition Index.

A new review of the 2012 Index report concludes that it is merely a long-winded way of stating, ‘we like districts with lots of choice, and here they are’ – thus adding little if any useful information for policy deliberations.

The Index, or ECCI for short, was reviewed for the Think Twice think tank review project by David Garcia of Arizona State University, who has researched and published on issues including school choice and accountability. The review is published by the National Education Policy Center, housed at the University of Colorado Boulder School of Education.

Developed by Grover J. “Russ” Whitehurst with Sarah Whitfield, the ECCI is composed of 13 criteria by which school districts can be “measured” to evaluate how much they support and encourage parental school choice. The index criteria favor choice as an end in and of itself, and the 2012 index includes an interactive application that grades large school districts in accordance with those criteria.

“The authors present the ECCI as a new approach to education policy,” Garcia writes in his review. “But the ideas are not new. The report repeats many of the same arguments and logic that can be found in other pro-market publications over the past 25 years.”

The only recommendation in the index that can be considered unique, Garcia continues, is its assertion that a school’s “popularity” is a sufficient basis on which to judge school quality “and a sufficient criterion by which to direct taxpayer dollars.” Yet, he notes, even that recommendation isn’t really new; it but instead restates 1990s-era calls for unregulated school choice.

“The ECCI assumes benefits of market competition, but these benefits depend on how parents choose schools, and the report does not include any research on how parents make school choice decisions,” Garcia writes. The report also offers no evidence that school districts scoring higher on the index demonstrate the improved outcomes that the authors claim the index should predict. “In fact, the only large district with an ‘A’ rating per the ECCI received a ‘D’ according to its state accountability system.”

With its dated assumptions and subjective criteria, Garcia concludes that the report “reads like an essay in support of free-market choice policies” – not an effective policy tool.

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