School Choice: The Findings

by on October 30, 2007 at 7:50 am in Education | Permalink

This new Cato book is a good introduction to the empirical literature on vouchers and charter schools.  For my taste it places too much weight on standardized tests, but admittedly that is the main way to compare educational results over time or across countries.  I believe the lax nature of government schooling in the U.S. often leaves the upper tail of the distribution free to dream and create, but I would not wish to push that as an argument against vouchers.  If you’re interested in bad arguments against vouchers, and their rebuttals, Megan McArdle offers a long post.

Moggio October 30, 2007 at 9:10 am

Would you know a similar book about vouchers IN THE ARTS? Thank you.

Floccina October 30, 2007 at 9:25 am

Since schooling IMHO is in large part signaling and (thus one’s relative position is more important than the learning- people value their diplomas more than what they learned) and IMHO more funding seems to have little effect on learning the goal of school vouchers should be to reduce overall spending.

Off Topic but as far as I can see in our schools testing/grading humans often squeezes out teach people what they need to know to live a good life. Our schools it seems don’t spend much time on practical things that would be good to know and are simple enough for those with 80 IQs to learn.

Often we get a tutor or ask a friend or read a book or go to a for profit school to learn something that we need to learn, but we need to go to a not for profit school to get credentials. I think that it might be good to separate teaching and testing. Let business figure out who are the best candidates for jobs. IMO businesses today are over consuming diplomas/schooling because it is subsidized and that there are much cheaper ways to screen employees.

BTW I liked Richard Vedder’s book “Going Broke by Degree†.

David Zetland October 30, 2007 at 11:25 am

Here’s a great rant on how bad schools are getting. It’s got some good stuff on over-testing: of the 182 school days in a year, there are 110 when such testing is going on somewhere at Oakland High. As one of his colleagues put it, “It’s like weighing a calf twice a day, but never feeding it.”

Steve October 30, 2007 at 12:09 pm

Great site!

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Christina October 30, 2007 at 1:06 pm

I believe the lax nature of government schooling in the U.S. often leaves the upper tail of the distribution free to dream and create…

This is absurd. If there is anything public school teachers abhor, it’s kids who outwardly display no need to follow their curriculum. Case in point: during my 11th grade IB English class one day the teacher didn’t have any kind of lesson plan, so the class was to spend the time reading the book we were studying. Because I had read the book over the previous summer and had re-read it the weekend before we started the unit (I really enjoyed it), I didn’t need to read and instead did something else. The teacher became furious and immediately required that I take an on-the-spot oral quiz of the book. He would read lines out of it and I had to tell him where they were in the book, within 10 pages. I nailed every line, finding each one with no problem. He was mortified, and spent the remainder of the school year trying to weigh me down with meaningless busy work. And remember this was an upper-level IB class.

Floccina October 30, 2007 at 2:26 pm

Andromeda I just meant that there should be less focus on schools as a tests (diplomas are given as proof of passing the test that school is). Schools should focus on teaching what the students need to know. Testing as tool for knowing if the students understand what you are trying to teach them is fine but I think that testing/grading people has gotten to the point in schools where it squeezes out some learning. Things are taught in a way that makes them a good test. A few examples:
I know people who love the history channel but who hated history in school. They have learned more history from the history channel than they learned in school. IMHO part of the reason why history is boring in school is that in school they need to grade people and so they use the easily to test dates and names. If they just showed movies and focused on what makes and moved history the class would not be considered rigorous enough. Not rigorous enough IMHO means not a good test.
The basic principals of qualitative physics are mostly simple, and useful to most people in life and they are easy to learn but in order to make physics rigorous enough it is almost always taught quantitatively.
The basic principals of chemistry simple, useful to most people in life (to avoid scams selling cars that can be run on water) and easy learn but in order to make chemistry rigorous enough it is almost always taught quantitatively.
Etc.
I actually think that it is somewhat rude that you pay to send your child to school and they grade him and then even if his grades are bad they blab it to the world. I understand that to many grades are motivational and that needs to be taken into account but why not focus more on teaching people what they need to know and if they all get it they all get A’s.
Interesting in this regard is Robert Frank on teaching economics (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QalNVxeIKEE).

spencer October 30, 2007 at 5:29 pm

I for one completely fail to see how vouchers would really change the situation much. We now have a system where wealthy kids get a great education, middle class kids get a good education and poor kids get a poor education.

OK, give every kid a $10,000 voucher. What would happen? Top notch schools would charge $30,000 and the wealthy could pay the extra $20,000 to send their kids to superior schools. Average schools would charge $20,000 and middle class parents would pay the $10,00 to send their kids to the good schools. Poor parents would have to send their kids to the schools that only charged $10,000. The middle class would get the extra $10,000 because their middle class communities could cut their property taxes by $10,000. But the poor residents in the inner city schools would not get this type of tax break because they do not pay that much in taxes to start with.

Tell me how you would prevent universal voucher from evolving into this system without breaking every libertarian principle you believe in.

spencer October 31, 2007 at 9:04 am

anon — if what you are saying is true why do I always hear people talking about how much more the inner city schools spend per pupil then other school systems.

It is not that I care one way or another. It is just that I just find the idea of voucher completely unrealistic. You are not going to get middle class and upper middle class parents to give up their superior school systems. Consequently, you idea of disallowing voucher-financed schools from charging additional tuition is not a politically realistic proposal.
It would never be accepted by the voters.

Floccina October 31, 2007 at 5:06 pm

Spencer I am against vouchers but they could be means tested where the poor would get bigger vouchers.

I think that the poor in general will get less form education and will continue to do so.

Are you suggesting that education a good where some of the value to consumers comes from it being expensive (I noticed that apartments are often like this, a high price keeps the riffraff out)? It could work like this you select a higher priced school that educates no better than a lower priced school because you think your kids will be in with a better class of people. This may be true but vouchers or privatization could still improve the output. But it seems true that people do not like to be around poor people and I am afraid sometimes for good reasons. It might be better to give the poor cash than vouchers. If we pay for people’s college then if a kid has a low IQ he might be paid to not continue on in school, after all he is saving us money and perhaps he could buy capital with the money. E.G. low IQ guy with a bulldozer can earn much more per day than the same guy without. Physical Capital seems to me a good substitute for a diploma.

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