Monday, January 5, 2015

NEPC reviewers find some value in AEI report on charter schools but nothing useful in ConnCAN advocacy document

A recent pair of reports advocating school choice to improve educational outcomes differ in their relative utility, but both fall short due to their unsubstantiated faith in market forces to effectively improve public schooling, according to a new review released today.

The reports were examined for the Think Twice think tank review project in a review published by the National Education Policy Center, housed at the University of Colorado Boulder School of Education.

Erin McNamara Horvat and David Everington Baugh co-authored the review, which considered reports from the American Enterprise Institute and the Connecticut Coalition for Achievement Now, or ConnCAN. Dr. Horvat is associate professor of Urban Education at Temple University and studies issues of access, equity and family engagement. Dr. Baugh is a school district superintendent who has evaluated numerous charter school applications for opening and continued operations while leading a moderately sized, diverse district in suburban Philadelphia.

The ConnCAN report, A Crisis We Can Solve: Connecticut’s Failing Schools and Their Impact, relies mainly on anecdotal evidence for its claims on behalf of school choice as the solution to the problems it identifies in the Nutmeg State’s public school systems. “It is merely a choice advocacy document and is therefore of little value to serious policy reform conversations or academic researchers,” the reviewers write.

The AEI report, Better Data, Better Decisions: Informing School Choosers to Improve Education Markets, has more to offer, Horvat and Baugh write: “It is grounded in solid scholarship and data from existing choice research as well as research conducted by its author. It makes useful suggestions regarding how choice might be more effectively implemented.”

The reviewers caution, however, that the AEI report “makes unsubstantiated claims about the power of choice to reform schools and to improve educational outcomes.” In fact, both reports are constrained in their reliance “on choice within a mythical school marketplace to effect change,” Horvat and Baugh conclude.

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