We hear a lot about “school choice” these days. What does it truly mean? Who gets to choose what?
On April Fools’ Day, the Nevada State Education Association and progressive allies hosted a “Don’t Get Fooled by Vouchers” town hall to warn of what they consider the danger of making the wrong choice.
Christopher Lubienski and Sarah Theule Lubienski are the authors of The Public School Advantage: Why Public Schools Outperform Private Schools. On Saturday, the Lubienskis presented their findings to the Las Vegas town hall hosted by NSEA, Battle Born Progress, For Nevada’s Future, and the Culinary Union.
Several legislators, even flew to Las Vegas from Carson City to participate. Senators Mo Denis (D-North Las Vegas), David Parks (D-Paradise), and Mark Manendo (D-Sunrise Manor), and Assembly Members Ellen Spiegel (D-Henderson), Tyrone Thompson (D-North Las Vegas), Daniele Monroe-Moreno (D-North Las Vegas), Brittney Miller (D-Spring Valley), and Keith Pickard (R-Henderson) all came to listen and participate.
According to the Lubienskis’ research, public schools are actually performing better than private schools.
How so? In the raw data, public school students’ test scores are catching up to those in private schools. Yet hidden in the raw data are the socioeconomic advantages of private schools. Unlike public schools, private schools can choose who they want to educate. As a result, private school students tend to be whiter and wealthier than public school students.
Once private schools’ socioeconomic advantages are factored in, “They’re losing their advantage,” according to Sarah Lubienski.
“Achievement’s not panning out for voucher advocates.” – Christopher Lubienski
So if academic achievement doesn’t give private schools a clear advantage, what does? The Lubienskis suggested it’s not the resources offered by private schools, either. Again, private schools can choose their own students. And unlike public schools, private schools can also choose not to offer special education programs. After the town hall, Christopher Lubienski explained how private school “parents have to sign away their rights under the Individuals with Disabilities in Education Act [IDEA]. They can’t hold the schools accountable.”
Don’t private schools still have better teachers? Not so fast, said Sarah Lubienski. “Private schools hire more uncertified teachers. […] They don’t have to keep up with professional development.” They also typically don’t have to subject students to “high-stakes testing” like public schools do. Private school teachers may have more flexibility in educating their students, but the flip side of that is private school teachers aren’t held to the same professional standards.
“Private schools shouldn’t be looked at as a panacea. […] They can actually harm children.” – Christopher Lubienski
Private school teachers and homeschooling parents also don’t have to abide by the same curriculum standards public schools are held to. For years, homeschool advocates have fought efforts to ensure their students receive the same caliber of education public school students do. And private schools have used the First Amendment as legal cover to design their curricula and rules however they want.
So what’s driving the campaign to subsidize “private school choice”? The Lubienskis sense a more pernicious instinct fueling this movement.
“Are we just creating a system that serves as a vehicle for greater segregation?” – Christopher Lubienski
We’ve already seen this disparity play out in Nevada ESA voucher applications, as they’re mostly coming from whiter and wealthier zip codes that are already zoned for the top performing public schools. If ESA vouchers become fully functioning, they may simply reinforce the demographic disparity already present in private schools.
So what’s the solution? The Lubienskis recommended greater focus on, and greater investment in, public schools. The prospect of “school choice” may be seductive, but they stressed the need for well-equipped public schools for parents and students to choose. Some parents prefer sending their students to private school or schooling them at home, but that’s not the best choice for everyone. And taxpayers may ultimately have a choice in public schools that provides the most bang for their buck in serving the most students.