Education Reformers Get Schooled

The trouble with one-size-fits-all solutions


In 1990, in one of the most innovative developments in modern American education, the Milwaukee public schools created a parental choice system. Some low-income parents got vouchers that could be used to send their children to private schools.

It was a richly promising idea. The new option would let disadvantaged kids escape wretched public schools. Competition would force public schools to improve or close. Students would learn more.

Twenty years have passed. Last week, researchers at the School Choice Demonstration Project at the University of Arkansas published their latest assessment of the results.

What did they find? Something unexpected: Kids in the program do no better than everyone else. "At this point," said professor Patrick J. Wolf, "the voucher students are showing average rates of achievement gain similar to their public school peers."

This is a surprise to anyone who originally supported the voucher idea—as I did. But it's entirely consistent with the record elsewhere.

In Washington, D.C., voucher kids improved a little in reading after three years, but not in math. A 2009 review of all the studies on voucher programs found few gains, "most of which are not statistically different from zero." This type of school choice, whatever its merits, has not accomplished what it was supposed to do.

In that, it resembles just about every idea offered by liberals, conservatives or anyone else in recent decades. Coming up with solutions for public education, it turns out, is easy. Coming up with solutions that actually work—well, that's another story.

The latest trend in education reform is charter schools—independent institutions that are publicly funded but free of the usual restrictions on hiring, firing, curriculum, instruction, and so on. Today, there are some 4,700 charter schools enrolling 1.4 million kids.

Like vouchers, they are supposed to stimulate improvement by expanding options, fostering a rush to quality. Like vouchers, they have fallen way short of expectations.

In some places, there is evidence that students who win lotteries that let them go to charter schools do better than students who lose out. In New York City, Stanford University economist Caroline Hoxby found evidence that the charter school kids progress more rapidly than their peers in public schools.

Her study doesn't resolve why. Do the charter schools have better educational methods? Or do the kids just function better when surrounded by motivated kids (or kids with motivated parents)?

The answer is important. Better educational methods can be duplicated in other schools. But no one knows how to increase the supply of motivated families.

In any case, New York is not exactly the norm. A study last year by Stanford's Center for Research on Education Outcomes (CREDO) found that overall, "charter students are not faring as well" as other public school pupils.

These findings may be heartening to liberals who thought the whole school choice movement was a snare and a delusion. But the real world has also demolished liberal notions of how to improve educational outcomes.

More money for schools? Between 1960 and 2005, per-pupil spending in the United States quadrupled, adjusting for inflation. Yet student performance on reading and math tests stayed put.

Smaller classes? As Eric Hanushek and Alfred Lindseth note in their book, Schoolhouses, Courthouses, and Statehouses, almost three-quarters of the studies conclude that class size doesn't affect student achievement.

Anyone who still puts stock in expanded resources has to contend with the dismal experience of the Kansas City public schools, which got a huge infusion of money when a federal judge essentially took them over in 1986.

Facilities were radically upgraded, classes shrank, new programs proliferated, teachers got raises, and every school became a magnet school. But students didn't learn any more than before. The schools got everything a supporter of old-fashioned public education could have asked for, and they couldn't educate kids any better.

What should we learn from these experiences? Not that nothing works, but that few if any remedies work consistently in different places with different populations. We shouldn't expect that broad, one-size-fits-all changes imposed by the federal government—such as those offered by the Obama administration—will pay off in student performance.

From the local school district to the federal Department of Education, humility, caution, and open-mindedness are in order. Because right now, the main thing we know about improving schools is that we don't know very much.



NEXT: Bernanke: Give Me Balanced Budgets, But Not Yet

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  1. This news may, at first, seem disappointing. Vouchers, something that Milton Friedman fought for, have turned out not to be a panacea. Neither have charter schools or private schools (secular or otherwise). As mentioned, more resources and smaller class sizes didn’t make the cut either. I would also presume that parental control wouldn’t necessary

    1. …necessarily lead to high performance either. So, where does that leave us?

      Ultimately, in the end, the answer is staring at us in the face; passionate, motivated teachers and students that want to learn. There is no easy way to achieve that; it’s something that isn’t dependent on a single factor. Curriculum’s must be geared toward teaching subjects and how to think; not to a test or how to take it. In any case, this is a subject that isn’t easy.

      1. You cannot induce motivation on someone from the outside. Parents can inculcate the values in their children that will cause the children to be motivated, but if the parents don’t have those values the kids may pick up on it by themselves. But if the values are not there in the parents or the children there is no way for the school system to make them motivated, no matter how much money you throw at the schools.

        1. This is true, whether the system is public or private. I guess that’s the heart of the matter.

        2. MJ is right. I have quite a few friends that are teachers, including my fiance who is has 30 year experience as a teacher and a principal. My daughter is a degreed wildlife biologist that recently became a teacher.

          Their experience suggests that far too many kids have parents that are unconcerned or even hostile to any suggestion that they become more involved in their child’s education.

          Many of these kids know that there is little or no consequence to not studing or doing poorly in school.

          1. I agree that MJ has hit the nail on the head. My own experience in the Florida school system, as a member of a non-school affiliated program, taught me all too well.

            But where does this leave the nudgies and other governmental do-gooders? Their doing all they do for the children you know.

            1. “My own experience in the Florida school system, as a member of a non-school affiliated program, taught me all too well.”

              We simply dont care you get it? all we care about is Nice-bigbooty.. this is simple like addition and substraction..

    2. I’ve always been well aware that private schools are often little better than public schools. I myself learned a lot from the public school system (virginia beach, VA and Fort Worth, TX), but I feel that was because I was willing to learn. There is a mountain of free information for every student in the world, today, but few people take advantage of what is lying right in front of them. I’ve seen plenty of idiots emerge from the private school system, too.

      To me, this issue has always been about cost. Voucher systems allow children to achieve similar results at a lower cost. End of discussion.

    3. I think Milton Friedman also opposed truancy laws. Wouldn’t schools change for the better if everyone over the age of 13 or 14 who didn’t want to be there was free to leave?

      1. That would be an interesting time. It would certainly create a large gap between educated and uneducated. More like the dumb would be dumber and the smart, smarter.

  2. Vouchers, vouchers, vouchers.

    To improve quality, you simply must put the consumer in the money chain. Cash, from government to provider, without passing through the consumer, will always affect quality.

    1. I think this comment sounds a little simplistic but there is something to it.

      The new consensus seems to indicate that vouchers don’t, by themselves, raise student achievement.

      But if they improve consumer (parent) satisfaction, that probably means they are succeeding along other fronts: student safety, support services for disadvantaged communities, a feeling of empowerment.

      On those terms, choice is a success in itself.

      Too bad about the student achievement, though. 🙁

      1. The student achievement bit is an issue that, it seems, has little to do with whether schools are private or public. It is related to:

        -parents who encourage their children to study for themselves; between the extreme of doing everything for them and being completely apathetic

        -Students who genuinely want to learn

        -Teachers who want to teach and are well versed in a given subject matter.

        1. You sound suspiciously like you know what you’re talking about.

      2. I would like to see vouchers or some other way of getting the government out of the curriculum-setting business. I’m weary of the liberal-conservative cultural wars in this country, as exemplified by the recent Texas textbook controversy.

        You know what — if we could all send our kids to schools that teach what we want them to be taught, we wouldn’t all have to have ugly political fights over the curriculum. Maybe we could see some tolerance and civility in this country, again.

        1. I while I side with the liberals in the culture wars, completely privatizing the school system would help break up the fight. Liberals raise a legitimate complaint about using other people’s money to pay for tuition at a religious school. It’s the same criticism we levy at either the Donkies or the Elephants ‘pet projects’. The argument that, as long as the parent chooses the school, it is okay is lame. A voucher is still other people’s money.

          While one could suggest prohibiting the use of vouchers for religious schools, this would only serve to make the conservatives mad. Besides, most private schools, sadly, are parochial. New schools would emerge, but only after a long time. Really, there is no easy way to do this.

          1. The argument that, as long as the parent chooses the school, it is okay is lame.

            I’m not religious at all, but I think it’s a fairly elegant compromise, not “lame”.

            New schools would emerge, but only after a long time.

            Don’t see why that would necessarily be so. Part of the problem is that there are other factors slowing down creation of new schools. I know from observing a friend try to create a private prep school that there are lots of zoning and building regulations heaped on anybody who tries to open a new school facility. Seems to be the reason why so many private schools operate out of leased public school facilities.

          2. The separation of church and state argument doesn’t fly, according to that logic, donating your tax refund to a religious based charity would be illegal.

            1. A tax refund is money returned to you by the government. A voucher is money appropriated from someone else and given to another.

              A better approach would be embedding a tax deduction in the tax code, for those intending to send their kids to a private school.

              1. Agreed. Better for most people. The question will come up, though: what good does a tax deduction do for parents who can’t afford to send their kids to a private school in the first place? That gets you right back to providing them with a subsidy of some kind, which gets you back to the Constitutional dilemma.

              2. “A tax refund is money returned to you by the government. A voucher is money appropriated from someone else and given to another”

                Not always true. There are a lot of low income people that get more in taxes back than they pay in.

                Anyway, the point of seperationo of church and state is that the government doesn’t “establish” a national religion IE Church of England.

                It is NOT to prevent any goverment activities or funds from ever touching any religous activities. For example, being sworn in on the Bible, God on Money, prayers for congress, Chaplins in the miltary, etc, etc, etc

                1. Look up the “Lemon test.”

                  1. Hadn’t heard of the lemon test. Have to think on it a bit. That “excessive entanglement” standard seems way subjective.

                    1. See: Zelman v. Simmons-Harris – School Vouchers are constitutional.

                      They do not violate the Lemon Test or the Establishment Clause. The Court set up a Private Choice Test to determine if there was a violation. There was not.


                      There is no favoring or disfavoring of religion with vouchers. It’s a fundamental misinterpretation of the First Amendment. The government can’t establish a national religion. It is not doing so here.

                      Also, Steve Chapman is wrong. The “Inconclusive Research Myth” has been disproven by the very people he cites: the School Choice Demonstration Project.


          3. “Liberals raise a legitimate complaint about using other people’s money to pay for tuition at a religious school. It’s the same criticism we levy at either the Donkies or the Elephants ‘pet projects’. The argument that, as long as the parent chooses the school, it is okay is lame.”

            Maybe liberals should understand that vouchers would allow them to send their kids to schools that were outright atheistic. THey would be allowed to send children to schools that openly criticized the belief in God while teaching atheist philosophy. I think that many atheists feel let down by the public system, too.

            I would be perfectly okay with a parent sending their child to Marxism school. Parents should be allowed to have their children taught anything that they want. Any education is going to be biased in some way. Almost every group feels like they are being indoctrinated in our current school system, so it’s not like it isn’t already a problem.

            1. I think that many atheists feel let down by the public system, too.

              It’s mostly hard on non-religious parents who live in red states, just as it is hard on fundamentalist parents who live in blue states.

              I do wish people would stop worrying so much that some kids is going to be taught something “wrong” in school. Kids are subjected to all kinds of bullshit ideas, and it’s good for them in tolerable doses. Like being exposed to germs.

              1. Misinformation is always a bad thing in the classroom no matter how misguided parents may be.

          4. Bullshit. Pick your number. What does it take to educate a brat in your state? $7k? $9k? It’s over $10k averaged nationally.
            Vouchers wouldn’t be the end of all public education for sure, and I Dunno about you, but I know any number of MBA’s that would itch to treat a couple of hundred kids for that kinda dough. My guess is, even after mandating facility and credential standards they could make a buck, and a right nice one. My guess is large corporations would form immediately strictly for the purpose of attracting your voucher.
            Moreover, you’d have a choice. Forget the parochial school cannard. Set minimum standards and let the parents decide what else is taught their spawn.
            What the private school wouldn’t tolerate is bullshit. Your kid is truant? Has issues? Take him somewhere else. And the somewhere else? Public school, right where he is now.

  3. I think the issue has long been one of how are teachers being taught to teach.

    That being said, what about the charter schools that were shown in “Reason Saves Cleveland” that were such a success? And if all outcomes are the same, why shouldn’t we go with the cheapest alternative of completely privatized schools and get rid of government distortions to the market?

    1. One cannot really teach people how to teach. One can only find people well versed in a given field who is willing to do so.

      1. It’s a good thing schools don’t offer a degree in education then.

        1. That’s the problem. Degrees for teaching, when one gets down to it, are patently absurd.

        2. I hate to burst your bubble, but an education degree does NOT make you a teacher, it may give you the title, but that’s about it.

          Some people are just incapable of imparting whatever knowledge they posess, regardless of thow well schooled they are.

          1. I’m not saying it’s how it should be, I’m saying that’s how it is.

        3. Teaching is more art than science. People who want to be teachers would be better served by completing a lengthy apprenticeship than by sitting through a bunch of education classes.

  4. And don’t ever make the mistake that you can design something better than what you get from ruthless massively parallel trial-and-error with a feedback cycle. That’s giving your intelligence much too much credit.

    In education we have relatively very little trial-and-error. We have a hugely top-down approach where one set of innovations is forced on the overwhelming majority of schools.

    1. This sounds like something Linus Torvalds would actually say… Very true. Open source software has a lot to teach us.

    2. Javisst, ja!

      1. This was actually a reply to Mr. Linux himself…

  5. I guess I’m just an ideologue, but I still think the best answer is found in choice of some kind. A given voucher program may not work, or there may not be sufficient numbers of charter options in many cases. What gets lost, I think, is Friedman’s other idea: that the power of profit-and-loss markets is found in the losses. Charter schools may average out to be the same as public schools. That doesn’t mean there has been no improvement. It means that the poor performing charters need to be closed, to be replaced by new ones that replicate the successful ones or try new approaches. To really put market choices to the test, you’ve got to give choosey parents enough choices that they can abandon the charters that perform poorly.

    As a former teacher, I also agree that teacher training is weak, and often misguided.

  6. I’m wondering if the voucher program would be more effective if implemented on a larger scale. I know that in Britain, you can choose any school you want without restriction. Perhaps consequently, they do not have the same difficulties in education.

    Also the right to NOT have an education needs to be given more respect in society. A guy that wants to be an auto mechanic should not be forced to learn calculus by government mandate.

    A violation of a negative right in favor of the supposed benefits of a government monopolized education is not a good trade.

    1. Exactly, to your second point. I often found it misguided the way my highscool pushed everyone to go to college, when clearly at least half should or would not be going. They didn’t even try to offer people like that viable alternatives in education or planning. I think a completely privatized education system would address this.

    2. No one is forced to take calculus.

      Just offering subjects like Wood Shop is sexist ? even with enrolment open to anyone, or at least that is what I was told by a female high school English teacher. The Howard County MD school system gets around the sexism issue by calling Wood Shop, “Technical Processes” or some sort of rubbish.

      1. Yeah I remember those days. What a nightmare. During high school English, one of my friends had a teacher that spent the entire time promoting environmentalism. She’d probably have no problem locking anyone up and throwing away the key if they dared even think of calling it “wood shop”.

    3. I agree. Although, I’d word it differently: Someone who has learned all about how to fix an automobile should be given respect as an educated person, at least in that area of expertise.

    4. Well, no one is forced to learn Calculus by government mandate. I think Algebra is as high as you are required to learn. But I get your point. The legal drop out age should be lowered to 14 or 15, and there should be more vocational training options provided in public schools.

  7. Outta be a limit to how many times in one week a Reason article can use “one-size-fits-all” in the title

  8. Oh ye of little faith. Remember the Miracle at Annenberg, where our future Lord and President saved the entire Chicago public school system with two loaves of bread at $150 million in cash?

    Or intended to, anyway. And isn’t that what edjucashin is all about? Amen!

    1. Our president is a shithead.

  9. “Compulsory education”?

    Compulsion and education — force and thought — are related like darkness and light: the presence of one is the absence of the other. The folly of bringing together both can be nothing less than manifest ignorance of the nature and reality of each.

    1. I agree. The key is simply abolition of compulsory education.

      Unfortunately, that idea is seen as radical and would probably never hold water with the public, in spite of the fact that the mental slavery it promotes is heinous.

  10. I know that in Britain, you can choose any school you want without restriction.

    Unless things have change significantly since I returned to the states in ’92, there is no uniform school system in Britain. Scotland & England are two different countries with two different education systems and two different legal systems ?and that was before devolution and a Scottish Parliament.

    In the highlands, where I lived for 15 years, they can put on paper as much choice as they want, but becuase of lack of population density there is no choice. I read local Argyll newspapers all the time. There are two topics that dominate these papers, just as they do here: health care and education.

    That being said, one of the reasons I returned to the states was because of the Scottish education system. My kids went through the first few years in a primary school in a very rural area. The quality of the education in this school was excellent. If I knew that they would be good students, then I would have preferred that they stay in the Brit schools. The best students get a great education. However, if they turned out to be not so good students, they would have been kicked out the door at 16 (after eleven years of schooling; they start a year earlier) and on to the dole. The Brit education system, England & Scotland, is like everything else British. When something British is good, well it is top notch, world-class, good. But otherwise, British average is rather mediocre.

  11. One thing left out of this article is that in Milwaukee, the cost per student per year is several thousand dollars less for the voucher student than for the MPS student.

  12. Why, for articles like this, does the Hit & Run RSS feed always link to the page with only a summary and no comments? Why not got to the page with the article and the comments?

  13. Incentives. What incentive is there for a teacher to teach poorly or well if success only measured by test peformance? If children fair well, the school district gets money. If children do poorly, the school district claims lack of proper funding and deflects responsibility. Would decoupling success in teaching from test scores assist with overall student learning? How could “good” teaching be qualitatively measured?

    I think everyone agrees that kids need to be taught to think. The problem becomes how is that to be done and how the product is measured. Unfortunately, education is not an enterprise where failure can be clearly determined by the number of widgets sold.

    Everyone seems to be wringing their hands with this latest news of insufficient statistical difference between voucher kids and public school kids. The symptom of both is still there. An enormous federal weight sits on the education system public or private. Removing that weight and placing the education of children back into the hands of individuals and communities, whether they want it or not, still seems the best “libertarian” option.

    1. “How could “good” teaching be qualitatively measured?”

      It could be decided before hand what you require the teacher to teach to the students. If the students learn the material (which is demonstrated by passing a test on it) then the teacher was succesful.

      If they didn’t the teacher wasn’t. So there you go an objective measurement. Plus it’s the one that’s most important. Did the students learn.

  14. John Holt had stated that the current education is doomed to fail because it is compulsory, coercive and competitive.
    Get rid of all mandatory attendance laws. Allow students to attend classes that they are interested in and appropriate for their abilities. Start giving more alternative educational choices such as vocational schools, internships at workplaces, apprenticeships. Remove minimum age employment laws.

    1. John Holt is a fascinating character. I should read up on him more often. I don’t think repealing minimum age employment is doable, but the rest certainly is.

  15. No, there is no panacea. Studies show student achievement has FAR more to do with family backgrounds than with the actual quality of schools. Even when kids are in school full-time, a lot of the academic learning still happens at home. But at least with vouchers, parents have choice. At least with vouchers, you aren’t completely stuck with a curriculum or instruction method or the promotion of a value system you don’t like.

    The immigrant population of the school system has increased dramatically in the past several decades, and many immigrants do not yet speak fluent English, and yet we still expect that we can achieve higher test scores than we did 50 years ago. We require every child, no matter how recalcitrant, to be in school by law until the age of 16, 17, or 18, yet we expect Americans to earn higher average test scores than nations where education is more of a privilege than a legal requirement. Maybe we also need to be a little more realistic about our expectations.

    I think that one thing we can do to help education (not a panacea, but a definite plus) is to abolish teacher certification and schools of education as they currently exist and instead simply qualify teachers using a test of knowledge of the subject(s) they will be teaching. This will eliminate the current barriers to entry into the teaching profession, diversify the teaching staff of schools, and open up the profession to a much larger and more academically qualified pool, instead of confining the pool primarily to education majors, who are towards the bottom of the ladder among college students in terms of SAT scores and difficulty of course load. I think education classes and certification requirements are a detterant to many who might otherwise be willing to teach, but who don’t want to digest the enormous quanity of b.s. required to become certified.

    1. Exactly. On your last point, required certification is a problem in many fields (e.g. medicine, law, etc.)an contributes to higher costs. In general the cause is certified participants in the field get to put up barriers to entry to decrease demand, schools earn more as people are forced through their doors if they want to practice in that field, professional groups get more money through dues and cerification fees and government gets increased revenues through selling licenses and gauranteed voter blocks to keep these systems in place. Removing barriers to entry, increasing competition and letting people make their own decisions would help a lot of issues in this country. Central planning doesn’t work.

    2. You’ve made the point for vouchers brilliantly. My kids went to a private school. They demanded parental participation, and church attendence, and the contract you signed required it. Don’t wish to comply? Take your brat home.
      Parents who were public school teachers were not only among those availing themselves of this school but many were on a list for employment too.
      As one once told me; “I’ve long wished to be rewarded for my teaching excellence rather than senority. The additional benefit of teaching classes over which I can maintain control is simply an extra”.

  16. “In Washington, D.C., voucher kids improved a little in reading after three years, but not in math”

    I think this is caused by the ill concieved goal of payscale fairness. If you graduate with a literature degree, teaching is one in a short list of jobs you can get. If you get some math or science degree, you have a lot of options to make a lot of money. In order for kids to fare as well in math and science as they do in reading, they would need to draw excellent math and science teachers which would mean they would get paid quite a bit more than the english teachers. My guess is that America will be the stupidest country in the world before we admit that fairness isn’t all that important.

    1. I agree we should be able to pay the teachers we need more more money, but I don’t think this is the cause of the discrepency. I think scores in reading went up more than scores in math simply because, in recent decades, we have focused far more on math and science in schools than on the humanities. A return to focus on reading improves reading scores.

      1. I don’t think I understand. There has been more focus on math and science and so reading scores got better? I think my reading comprehension is worse than I thought.

  17. Uh, what is the point of all this education? Supposedly, real income has been stagnant for decades. I would like to see some data of real income gains amoung college graduates.

    Does education cause people to behave better, or do better behaved individuals get more education?
    But say I had to choose between 4 more years of education, or a different hot model every night…Yeah, I’d take the hot chick.

  18. You can dicker around with the education system all you want, but the problem is the parents, not the schools.

  19. Regarding choice – school choice is only useful or valid if the consumer has a variety of choices. Choosing from a number of schools with the exact same educational model and organization will negate any positive effects of choice.

    Regarding teacher quality – the sentiment that teaching is as much art as science (technique) is very true, but that doesn’t mean that effective practices can’t be taught. Just as one can learn to be a better painter, a better public speaker, a better computer programmer, one can learn best practices in pedagogy, better classroom management, and better assignment construction. One issue has been the ideological and philosophical base of teacher education programs. The theories of progressive education (the pedagogy of Dewey paired with administrative bureaucracy and centralization) have led education researchers and trainers to favor “whole child” theories, claiming that teachers can investigate their feelings and intuition about how to educate and find “their own” technique. This is an utterly anti-intellectual, anti-conceptual approach that has deteriorated teacher quality over the years. The fact is that good pedagogy can be constructed, tested, and taught, and can be proven effective, but many in the teaching profession seem insulted by the idea that their way might not be the end all and be all of professional practice. Until this changes, both in teacher training and in the mindset of many educators, education quality will continue to suffer.

    1. Yes, this is what I was trying to get at above, but my public education impeded.

  20. Maybe most American kids are just stupid.
    That was my impression was I was in school.

  21. That was my impression when I was in school.

  22. One word – COMPETITION. Bring free market competition to education. Eliminate the US Department Of Education – force the 50 states to fend for themselves. Some, perhaps many, maybe most will be forced to turn to markets to carry out the educational mandates in their state constitutions.

    How could that be worse than what we have now?

  23. The study is flawed because it does not address the question of dropouts. If the voucher schools are getting results equal to a public school, but they have minmal dropouts, then I would say that is a fantastic result. The MPS schools typically have a 50% dropout rate, so all the money they spent was flushed down the drain because the students didn’t get a diploma.

    1. great point

  24. But no one knows how to increase the supply of motivated families.

    I’m sure liberals have their own ideas about “how to make more motivated families”, and I’m sure it involves government “oversight.” Like perhaps government mandated “study time” which will be accounted for via “reasonable” in-home monitoring, or mandatory tutoring at government run centers for students who underperform.

  25. Most people seem to accept the fallacy that a “school” is the best environment to be educated or to learn (two different things by the way).

    If all education and learning has to operate within the confined framework that makes up both the public and private systems, you can’t be surprised when the outcomes are not vastly different.

    Abolish government schools, the department of education, compulsory attendance laws, and anything else that restricts how we choose to educate our children and let us work it out.

    Beacause we can’t use the government metrics to fully evaluate things like homeschooling, unschooling, alternatives like and , we keep creating this infinite loop of doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result.

    A real solution is to expand on the existing voucher schemes to allow for unaccredited and home school children. Truly put the money back in the parents’ hands and let them make their own choices. Then we can start seeing what works, reducing those payments, and the corresponding taxes, until we can get back to free market in K-12.

  26. “At this point,” said professor Patrick J. Wolf, “the voucher students are showing average rates of achievement gain similar to their public school peers.”

    This whole argument stems from one single problem — what, exactly, is “achievement?” Maybe the whole problem is whatever ‘standardized’ tests we’re using as a measure of achievement is a crock.

    1. The real problem is, charter schools aren’t really “private” schools, rather are public schools without unionized staff.

  27. …And as you can tell, since I mixed ‘tests’ with ‘is’ I must be a product of our public school system. 🙂

  28. I support vouchers, but this isn’t surprizing. You can’t provide a solution that doesn’t deal with the root cause and expect different results. The problem is the families. The lack of discipline within the home is the problem. If the kids have no desire to put in the effort at school because its not reinforced at home, then it doesn’t matter what the school implements.

    1. BS
      You lock our kids up in institutions for 8 hours a day, tell parents or imply to them that only you know how to educate a child, teach virtually nothing, and then complain that the remaining few hours before bedtime we should be able to fix that, all while cooking dinner, cleaning the house, etc?

      Parents have no less desire to see their children succeed now than they ever did. Parents fault? – This is a teacher’s union cop-out. WTF do you people do for 8 hours every day?

      For what we spend on education, I could pay a tutor $20 per hour cash, 3 hrs/day, 5 days/wk, for individualized instruction. Compared to the public school system, which do you think would produce better results?

      Parents can’t have this full responsibility without full control. And if you guys are gonna take control, accept some f***ing responsibility.

  29. Sorry, private education financed by vouchers is the total solution. Again, mandate whatever standards you choose, then get out of the way. The truly private school could mandate parental involvement daily, weekly or monthly if it deemed that important. Moreover, if your kid required more treatment because he’s a ferkin dunce, you pony up the balance. If the school couldn’t or wouldn’t provide what you think your kid needs, shop somewhere else. Or, maybe it’s back to the public school for you.

    My guess is, in a for-profit school, management would maximize their resources too, bringing costs down further. Twelve month schooling would probably become common and the current fallacy of an annual pay scale for 180 days of labor would go the way of the intelligent liberal.

    You simply must get the consumer in the money sequence if you want accountability and/or choice. When you take the tax dollar and pay the provider, you take the consumer out of the equation, and there goes portability and accountability.

    The only downside to vouchers is sports. Your idiot kid will probably have to pay to dunk a basketball in the hopes of more free state education.

  30. When will people realize that the schools aren’t necessarily the problem?

    Culture, home environment, and peer pressure keep certain kids down. You can’t solve this by monkeying around with schooling systems. No matter how awesome a school or its teachers are, some kids will never succeed if their home life remains the same.

  31. The main reason for the lack of improvement in charter schools or private schools is that nearly all schools teach in the same horrid way. Despite taking child development and child learning courses in college, almost all teachers ignore one of the most important facts: different kids learn best with different teaching methods. Some children learn best from oral lectures, some learn best from reading, some learn best from physical participation, some learn best from hands-on experiences, etc. But, figuring out what’s best for each child and then applying that information is too much work. Instead, nearly all teaching is done via lectures and reading assignments. Children who don’t learn well by those methods are screwed.

    Another reason for lack of increase in scores is that over 15% of boys attend school while on prescription drugs for ADHD or ADD. (Thirty years ago only 1% of children had those diagnoses.) Nearly all were misdiagnosed by educators and pediatricians who believe that six-year-old boys who cannot sit still through two straight hours of lecture are mentally ill and need to be drugged to attentiveness. But, though they appear attentive, they aren’t learning as well as their undrugged peers.

    Until educators start treating students as individuals instead of masses, many of our children will continue to suffer through a suboptimal learning environment and will learn to hate learning.

  32. Abolish compulsory education and let individuals enter the job market earlier.

    You wonder why teens are so “rebellious”?

    Because they want to move on with their life but they’re forced to go to prison and learn meaningless bullshit for 8 hours a day.

  33. Booo to this article. Charters in other states still face a lot of obstacles. They’re still funded far below traditional public schools. That New York CREDO study was the closest one that’s been done, that I know of, with just one control variable, or pretty much as close to one as you can get. In that case, charters blew traditional public schools away. …Now personally, I don’t think there should be public education. It should be private, but I think the evidence favoring charters is more conclusive than the author is suggesting.…..hools_2010

  34. “One cannot really teach people how to teach.”

    I don’t think this is true. My experience with three kids and a several years long stretch of home schooling them has left me believing that most schools and teachers really don’t understand learning or teaching.

    B. F. Skinners, THE TECHNOLOGY OF TEACHING, describes an approach that the education establishment has chosen to avoid using. The advances in technology that we could apply today to his science, hold the potential for revolutionizing education. Missed opportunity?

  35. I think our educational system is flawed with alot of gaps, I bring up things to do to crrect it in multiple webcasts on my website… and I like the opinions being shared on this post and you can send me your on my website by video or blogs. Have a nice weekend everybody- Ian Eidson

  36. I think our educational system is flawed with alot of gaps, I bring up things to do to crrect it in multiple webcasts on my website… and I like the opinions being shared on this post and you can send me your on my website by video or blogs. Have a nice weekend everybody- Ian Eidson

  37. Dr. Jay P. Greene of the University of Arkansas says,

    Chapman is right that education reform is really hard and progress is halting and gradual, but 1) he misinterprets the Milwaukee results (see…..sing-tide/ ) and 2) he is mistaken in claiming that Milwaukee’s new participant effect results are “consistent with the record elsewhere” (see…..ted-42609/ )

  38. The problem is science and math and a whole bunch of books are boring. Cartoons are way better. I’d much rather watch cartoons than learn about colonial America. And don’t pull that crap where you make cartoons about colonial America and try to fool me into thinking I’m having fun and learning. That’s horse shit and I can see right through it. If I wanted to learn about colonial America or the rain cycle or the quadratic formula I’d look it up on wikipedia. It would take four seconds. Instead my teachers made me sit in class for hours trying to teach me that. I could have been out playing hockey.

  39. Any genuine reform of the educational “system” needs to do two things: (1) dismantle the system because it is not working; (2) get the federal, state and local governments out of it, because they pay for the wrong things and the amount of dollars corrupts the process.

    It is estimated that at least 75 million folks get their pay from the present education system. Too many folks have a vested interest in the “system” and only parents have a vested interest in educating their kids.

    Whatever else may be true about education, what we’re doing now isn’t working and it’s getting worse, quickly. Get everyone else out of it and let the parents control education from top to bottom. You don’t need fancy stuff to teach kids to read and write and do arithmatic; you need people who love them. I learned to read at the age of two, sitting on my Granpa Jim’s lap while he and I read the color funnies from the Sunday paper. Of course, Sister Teresa at St. Mary’s Catholic school helped with the writing part when I was five; her and her ruler. heh. Jokes aside, parental control and financing of the schooling of their kids is the only way to go. We don’t now know what works; let America’s parents find out what things – plural, not a typo – work and then we can throw money at those ways and help them with donations, etc, as they figure it out. Without having to pay off politicians and influential businessmen who make money from the present system, a kid can probably be educated for around $1,000 per year, give or take a few hundred, including books and teacher’s pay, but no “staff” “assistants” “principals” “superintendants”, whatever: deputy under-flunkies of every description who get paid more than the teachers. Let’s try something that has a chance to work, instead of the insanity of trying the same thing over and over, expecting a different result.

  40. the voucher system didnt work as hoped because its still not a free market. in a free market, firms that succeed can grow and firms that fail die. the voucher system doesnt have the power to make that happen because we are unwilling to let failing schools die and we heavily restrict new entrants into the market.

    vouchers cant reward success or punish failure when our govt refuses to let them.

    and lumping all charter schools together into one average is insane. the point of charter schools is experimentation. if you were using animal dung as fertilizer, and decided to experiment with new fertilizers, would this be your logic?
    “well, i tried 50 different recipes for fertilizer, but on average, they didnt increase my crop yields. therefore, none of those new fertilizers work!”
    no, because that is batshit crazy. yet that is the argument against charter schools

  41. Blake vouchers do work even when they are hobbled by bad policy, its Steve Chapman that got schooled (by Dr. Greene) see my post above. I’m surprised this article even got posted to reason.

  42. As a public school graduate, and having a parent who taught school while i was a teenager. I agree that the number one problem is motivating parents. I hate to say it because I will be tared and feathered but the key difference bettween the US and other western systems is…. consequences. the tests have real meaning- how a kid does determines his/her future, and the parents know that. right now for a variety of reasons the K-12 years have few consequences for kids that parents can see. the nice thing is a system like this can be developed that does have vocational trainning avalible. another key is- forcing some sort of change in business culture that addresses the pay problem.

  43. Well, yet another Libertarian “Just So” story goes down the drain.

    The problem with education is tied into our consumer culture. Until our culture is altered to reward intellectual curiosity, and critical thinking, bashing teachers, and districts isn’t going to achieve much.

    Education isn’t difficult, but public education deals with a wide array of social problems. Its students are routinely unprepared, and the culture outside of school, does not encourage these subjects to be explored more thoroughly. Without that encouragement, education will always be cursory.

    Money is always an issue, but the problems are so deeply routed in our culture that only a sudden redirect away from folksy wisdom, and our religious obsession will have a dramatic effect. Even that would take generations, and it would have to be reinforced in terms of what we value as a culture. I don’t have much hope for that.

    Face it, we’re a proudly ignorant country, and this has become even more evident with the “Know Nothings” that have been fighting for relevancy.

    Libertarians haven’t exactly lit up the intellectual realm with accurate predictions proposed through their cautionary tales. This is another example. The fact that there isn’t any great difference in charter schools, when these schools are not dealing with the same burden that public schools are, is fairly damning.

    Unintended consequences work in both directions, ladies.

  44. If we want all of the children to go to college, maybe we’re focusing on the wrong thing. Not every child wants to go to college and if we’re thinking that by having charter schools (or getting equivalent performance from the traditional school system) or voucher systems that we’re going to see college-class learning I think we’re going to be sadly disappointed.

    Maybe what we need is to ensure that a high school graduate can function in society. Read, write and do math sufficient to take care of him or herself. imbue them with the ability to learn (even if in the future). That should be rock solid.

    I think that parents are concerned that their children are not being adequately taught. They want the ability to move their child to where they think he or she will be adequately taught and able to learn to the extent of his or her abilities. Maybe few things will be sadder than a parent (particularly a poor parent who lacks options) seeing their child poorly served in a school but are denied the opportunity to seek a better school that may give the child a better shot at a better future.

  45. One thing left out of this article is that in Milwaukee, the cost per student per year is several thousand dollars less for the voucher student than for the MPS student.
    Fat People

  46. An excellent site for a long time I am following the site almost every day, but I added your site or landing pages get into the commonly used rate slowed down in recent days I wonder if they have a problem with my computer is also unclear to me. Nevertheless, this site would like to thank those who contributed.

  47. Something unexpected: Kids in the program do no better than everyone else. “At this point,” said professor Patrick

Please to post comments

Comments are closed.